Modern Times, 1936

Posted: January 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of my favorite scenes from Modern Times was when Charlie Chaplin was testing out the new eating machine that was introduced to him by the inventors when he was working on the assembly line. Not only was this a hilarious scene, it also holds a meaningful purpose. The mechanical device that fed Chaplin reveals just how far some people would go to get that little extra profit at the expense of the workers well-being.

(This is the scene when the inventors test their device on Chaplin)

One theme in this movie stands out above the rest. Charlie Chaplin’s ultimate message was to show the difficulty of life during the Great Depression. He uses comedy to communicate to the audience what he was trying to convey. For example, the work that Chaplin was doing in the beginning of the movie was extremely tedious and tiresome. Chaplin was working on an assembly line (which was a very common way of working during the Great Depression), tightening the screws on a piece of metal. He clearly displayed to the the audience the tediousness of assembly line work by having a nervous breakdown and tightening anything that looked like screws. Chaplin went as far as trying to tighten the buttons on a woman’s dress! For one particular family in the film, their life was especially difficult. This was a very poor family whose mother had died and whose father was unemployed. The eldest daughter stole bananas in order to feed her starving family. Later on in the movie, the father was shot and murdered and the children all became orphans. During the Great Depression, violence and crime occurred repeatedly by several people, most of the time to steal food for themselves or their loved ones. A very interesting scene was when Charlie asked the police officer if he could remain in jail longer because he was so happy there. This was because he would always have food to eat and a place to stay. As a night watchman for a department store, he would sneak food to his girlfriend and was even robbed for food by a man he knew from a previous job. This continuous crime surely depicts the struggles people went through and says a lot considering many people disregarded personal morals.

 Assembly line

 Poor orphans

Another major theme in Modern Times is the notion that each individual person is really just a part of a larger whole. Although one may attempt to distinguish him or herself as an individual, it may not have been in one’s best interest to do so. This idea is especially prevalent in the scenes in which Charlie Chaplin was essentially forced through social pressures to go on strike against the companies he was working for. The entire system of how work was being done at the time tells a great deal about how each person is just part of something bigger. The typical American worker was just treated as labor that can be easily replaced in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the only concern of the boss was the ability of his workers to keep up with quotas. In the opening scenes, Chaplin’s boss was hoping to get every penny out of his employees by watching over every station with a video monitor. When he went to the bathroom to take a short break and have a cigarette, his boss’ face appeared on the monitor to yell at him and tell him to get back to work. He even went as far as testing out a machine that would serve his employees lunch as they worked in order to increase production.

 Charlie Chaplin on strike

 Boss on video monitor


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