Week 3 Blog Assignment

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times utilizes recurring motifs, audience expectations, and meaning, which are varied due to the film’s genre. 

A recurring theme found throughout the film is Chaplin’s own cycle of failure and success as seen in his inevitable loss of a job, time in jail, and achieving a new form of employment. Here we can see the troubles and hardships faced from a common person at the time of the movie, of the high rates of unemployment and strikes that lead the people to poverty and hunger. This is a symptomatic meaning as the film reflects upon the own troubles of the time it was produced in.

As the film is a comedy, several scenes where we would cringe in horror and tension is replaced with a more anticipated and humorous feel. This is most exemplified in the scenes where Chaplin is placed a situation that would be commonly be scene as dangerous, especially the department store balcony where he almost fell off. If this was any other genre, we would have expectations of fear and anxiety. But due to the label as a comedy, the audience more or less expects a comedic fall or humor. Also, due to the huge delay in Chaplin’s character to react to the missing fencing, the audience is also sent in a feeling of suspense.

Recurring items such as food, and more specifically bread, and gears deliver implicit meaning. The bread represents the peoples unfulfilled needs due to the rampant unemployment. The gears could be seen a representation of the order needed, but if one gear is jammed then the entire mechanism of entropy will stop. This can also be seen as  a symptomatic meaning as it reflects on the times and era it occur within.

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3 thoughts on “Week 3 Blog Assignment

  1. The way you point out that the bread and other props have implicit meaning is very insightful. I did not consider that until I read your post. Modern Times has the Great Depression as a central referential meaning throughout the film, and yet through the work of the filmmakers and Charlie Chaplin, they made a sad time very comical. The success and failure cycle that you mentioned is definitely prominent throughout the duration of the film. This is, what I believe, makes it so humorous. Charlie’s character can’t seem to catch a break but he is so naïve and optimistic that it’s funny for the audience to watch him try again knowing that he will probably fail again. I noticed also in this movie that the stunts are very dangerous which adds to the level of physical comedy. Physical comedy is much more important in silent films because the characters can’t just crack jokes to get a laugh.

  2. The Great Depression was a dark time in our nation’s history. And yet, as you have mentioned, Charlie Chaplin was able to deliver a comedy of great social value that adds enlightenment and truth to this harsh period. In a unique fashion throughout the film, Chaplin comments on the social norms and patterns of the depression through his constant cycle of obtaining and losing his job, a fate that many hard working men and women had to endure at this time. Through his “little tramp” humor, however, Chaplin is successfully able to bring light heartedness to an otherwise serious subject. This is no easy task.

    Ultimately, what I found brilliant was how Chaplin was able to connect the hard times of the depression with his career and the end of silent film. The ending of the film perfectly alludes to this idea in the sense that Charlie and the woman walk hand in hand towards the unknown, similar to how his future in film was viewed at the time. His uplifting message of perseverance, however, fulfills the audience’s expectations of a somewhat happy ending with the hope (as the symbolism you have stated) they too will one day make their “bread” once more. The same message can also be interpreted in terms of Chaplin’s career as the actor is stating that although his reign in silent film is ending, he will survive in the film industry. Thus, Modern Times is filled with referential and implicit meaning.

  3. It amazes me how a comedy can deal with such serious themes.
    Modern Times is a masterpiece in that it comments on the struggles of the working man (likely every man in the film’s contemporary audience) yet still makes that man laugh. It turns the grave into lighthearted.
    It is incredibly interesting to note that this movie was not a big hit at the time it came out, considering its message of unfailing hope in time when hope was in short supply. Nevertheless, students of film now regard it as a masterpiece in silent film, arguably Chaplin’s best. In that case, the film did its job. Or did it? If it was not such a hit at the time of its release (likely largely in part that the silent film had fallen out of fashion), did it achieve its goal of offering hope to the Great Depression Average Joe?

    This film differs from Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. in that it deals with much heavier themes and is a much darker social commentary. Whether Keaton used more filmmaking (elaborate stunts, camerawork, and editing) and Chaplin used acting as his main tool to create humor, one film offers a much easier commentary to swallow than does the other.

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