Modern Times is a perfect film to use for analyzing form. Not only does it have several recurring motifs, but it has many examples of the different types of meaning and it plays both into and against our expectations as viewers.
I found that one of the most recurring motifs is that many of the characters are, on multiple occasions, taken away by force by some authoritative organization. Chaplin’s character is taken to jail about five times throughout the movie and the female lead’s younger sisters are taken away to the orphanage. Even though as time goes on Chaplin’s character does things that don’t really warrant his arrest, he is still taken and imprisoned on multiple occasions, albeit for a short span of time. Perhaps these people being taken away time and time again is a symbol for how society sweeps us up and makes us little fish in a big pond. We so often get sucked into the expectations of society and forget to be ourselves; Modern Times reminds us of this fact in a subtle way.
Though it displays many examples of referential, explicit, implicit and symptomatic meanings, one moment in particular stood out to me: when the food machine said “Actions speak louder than words.” I thought it was significant because this is a silent film made ten years after the advent of sound film; it is clear that Chaplin found this phrase very true because he applied it in a literal way. Because the words are actually stated in the film, this is a great example of explicit meaning.
Perhaps most importantly, I thought this film was an excellent one to study when considering how form is used to play with our expectations. Though there are countless examples of how this is done in Modern Times, a fun example to note is when Chaplin’s character is blindly rollerblading on the under-construction upper level. As he skates near the edge, we watch and cringe, expecting him to fall over but again and again he manages to avoid falling to his death.
Overall, this film was fun to watch and think critically about. Knowing more about form allows us to more clearly understand a director’s ideas and it makes movie-watching a much more active mental experience.