Week 3 Blog Assignment

In Modern Times, one of the frequently recurring motifs that I found to be most symbolic to the film is food. In every scene, food is present and seems to play an important role in the storyline. From the beginning of the film we see the machine that feeds workers, and the girl stealing the bread and bananas, and the roast duck that never gets eaten. All of these themes with food play a role in showing the hardships of the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, a lot of people couldn’t afford to buy food, so some resorted to stealing like the girl stealing the bread, bananas, and cake from the department store. These scenes remind the audience of the difficult times of the Great Depression while combining it with humorous scenarios despite the seriousness of the situation.

As a comedy, we expect the film to be all laughs and humor, with nothing very serious or bad happening. However, the death of the orphan girl’s father was a very dramatic turning point in the movie. This scene reverses the viewers expectations, because we never saw foreshadowing of anything as serious as death occurring in a comedy film. The death of the father was an example of how desperate the situation was in the Great Depression. Everyone was in a state of unrest, with workers going on strike and people protesting. Even though this film was a comedy, it showed a dark side of society at that time.

The police played a significant role in the film as a recurring motif. There always seemed to be a police man in the scene, making sure there was no trouble and always seem to be catching the Tramp doing something that wasn’t entirely his fault. However, the Tramp didn’t mind being in jail and even tries to purposefully do something so he will be arrested because he liked living in jail so much. This is another sign of the conditions people faced in the Great Depression. Many people were homeless and the Tramp would even go to jail because he felt it was a place that he could call home. In the end, he tries to find a home but is unsuccessful.

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5 thoughts on “Week 3 Blog Assignment

  1. After reading your post I realized how much food did in fact appear in Modern Times. Even though eating is vital to life, it is not very often that you see people eating so much in a film. As you said though, this is the Great Depression, so almost every time a character is eating, they are doing so ravenously. This is humorous though, such as when Charlie was in jail and accidentally ate the man’s “supply”. I also didn’t expect the girl’s father to be shot either. Even though it was important to the plot, that whole situation left me unsatisfied as the girl was separated from her sisters, and had to discover her father dead in the middle of the street. This did create an element of realism though, which is important in telling a story. Also, like you said, when someone prefers jail over the freedom of the real world, it doesn’t only add humor to the film, but represents how desperate people were during this time period.

  2. I totally agree about the police. I think that they were a huge part of the movie; but even beyond police, I thought authority figures in general played a huge part in the movie. Whether it was a boss, or a police man, or Chaplin’s sewing cellmate, Charlie Chaplin always seemed to be at the mercy of someone bigger than him. Early in the movie, Chaplin’s boss reprimands him for taking a quick break from a grueling job, and he is also mistakenly thrown into prison a handful of times. The message Chaplin is sending by pitting his character against society, is a message about the great depression and how the whole country felt helpless. No matter what people were doing, they were always out of a job, just like how Chaplin was always out of a job. It was like nothing they could do would make any difference. Also, who knows? Maybe that’s also how Chaplin felt about how films were transitioning into the sound era: helpless.

  3. Food is definitely found in every scene in Modern Times. It really does play a crucial role in the film from the very beginning. Food was scarce during the Great Depression, which is why it is used in the film as more of luxury item. At the time only the upper class could actually afford food. The orphan would scavenge for food to help feed her siblings. When Chaplin landed the job in the department store, the first thing he did was feed the young lady. Even though the struggle to find food was a serious problem during the Great Depression, Chaplin lightens the mood by putting it into this humorous comedy featuring the Tramp.

    It is certainly true that had someone passed away in another film, as the father of the orphans did, it would have been a lot more depressing. However because Modern Times is a comedy, the death was kind of overlooked once we started laughing again as it was difficult to really take anything too serious in this film by Chaplin.

  4. I find it interesting that you pointed out that food within the film is essentially a symbol for the hardships of the Great Depression; I agree. I also believe that food is a means to convey a message of social commentary concerning the economic system at the time, through the constant reappearance and consuming/searching for food that occurs throughout the film. Also, the corn-feeding machine near the beginning of the film (violently force-feeding Chaplin’s character) in my opinion symbolizes the violent inevitability and forcefulness of industrialization as a life-changing infliction upon the people.

    I also agree with the sentiment concerning the scene where the orphan girl’s father was killed; it indeed was intended to evoke a sudden and sharp emotive response from the audience, forcing them to face the realities of the hardships of the time. I find that one of the purposes for the orphan girl’s role in the film was to allow the audience to see a much more relatable, intimate product of the Great Depression’s effects upon the human condition.

  5. I think that the attention to the repetition of food was a great observation as well. It even seems somewhat ironic to me that they were using food to test the machine that feeds people food when even being able to afford food was difficult during the time period the movie was made. It’s also interesting that they were using Chaplin to test the machine when providing food for himself on a factory worker’s salary probably wasn’t exactly a piece of cake (terrible pun intended).

    Contrasting that scene with the girl bringing home the bananas and stealing the bread was really quite interesting as well. You see the food-feeding-machine, a rather unnecessary device in my opinion, and then a girl stealing food for her soon to be orphan sisters. It definitely calls into question what money was being used to build such a random device when there were starving children just trying to survive. Food was probably such a focus because with the current hard times, I’m sure it was on everybody’s mind.

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