‘Modern Times’ essay

My response/essay after watching Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ for my The Art of Film Class.

 Wednesday, October 19, 2005, 3:12 PM


Modern Times

My second favorite movie of the semester so far is this silent movie by Charlie Chaplin. This movie to me was pretty brilliant, ground breaking and way ahead of its time. We also got a glimpse into the personal life of Chaplin. This movie is a view into the life a man played by Chaplin. Showed scene by scene we follow him as he goes from one point in his life to another. The first silent movie I have seen and I can say the lack of dialogue did not hurt it a bit. Terrific filmmaking it takes to get points across without talking and being able to explain everything.

As it started Chaplin was working on a production line in a factory. He makes a repetitive movement so often he continues to make the movement even when the production line has been shut off. The workers are watched close but a line supervisor as well as the big boss who watches by secret video. Everything the workers do can be seen by the boss including going to the bathroom. This foreshadows the future as workers and citizens are watched by video camera both at work and in public places. Chaplin fills this movie with many messages and these are the first two. People are not machines and should not be treated as machines and that people do not need people watching there every move. Do we need a society where no one is trusted? Must we all be paranoid Chaplin is asking. Chaplin loses his job at the plant and joins the millions of others scrounging for work during the Great Depression. On his way Chaplin gets caught up in a strike protest at another plant and somehow gets fingered as a ringleader. His behavior is taken out of context; I am reminding of Larry David’s follies on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is arrested in the first of his run-ins with the police. This movie also shows that some things have always been a certain way and never change. The police here seem to be enforcing the will of the business owners and not the laws of the state. Democracy and capitalism can never work together successfully this movie demonstrates. It is true to anyone whose vision is not obstructed by
dollar signs but policemen being used as a private hit squad for businesses have been around for centuries and have been especially prevalent in America over the last century or so. The WTO protest in Seattle in 1999 is a great recent example.

Chaplin’s character is released from prison and goes on. The movie is much the same until he meets a young girl. Clearly Chaplin’s character is an adult man; Chaplin is probably playing his own age. But this girl is a teenager. She is an orphan girl taken as a ward of the state when her father dies. She would not be ward is she was of legal age so then she must be no more than sixteen I’ll say. In real life a forty year old Chaplin married a teenage girl. Interesting he
would play out this type of scenario in a movie then reenact it in real life. Life imitating art or art imitating art?  The introduction of the girl did allow me to become more emotionally involved in the movie. I had already wanted to see things work out for Chaplin but with the innocent girl involved I am more so. Society is picking on these two and I want them to win and beat society. This can’t be done but at least at the end of the movie they are still in love and still
together.

There are many physical comedic stunts performed in the movie, the comedy is all physical but it is still there. Brilliant filmmaking.

The commentaries are pretty heavy. But then we get an extra seventy years years of whatever it is to allow to see
the messages more clearly. Business not caring about its employees, cops as the heavy’s for the rich, an uncaring criminal justice system; all the things we see in the movie are still alive and well today. I wonder if Chaplin thought he might make a difference. Nothing has changed but has actually gotten worse. But at lest we know some people are paying attention (or were paying attention) while most of us aren’t.

Leave a Reply