Chalie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” is a very anti-capitalist look at the 1936 manufactory system and the effect it had on those in the throes of poverty. The film opens with the protagonist (played by Chaplin) working in a factory, wherein the factory workers operate like machines. Soon after, as a result of the repetitious movement inherent in an assembly line, Chaplin’s character has a nervous breakdown, which lands him in a mental institution. During this breakdown, we get an interesting side-shot of the cogs as Chaplin is strung through the machinery, further suggesting that the worker is no better than the machines that they operate. Interestingly, the majority of the shots in the factory are long single shots, showing almost entire skits from a single angle. From this scene, we cut to impoverished children stealing food, which further exemplifies the victims of 1936’s capitalist system. This scene also introduces Chaplin’s companion later in the film.

The film shows Chaplin in and out of jail, either for crimes he didn’t commit or was forced to commit due to poverty or crimes committed out of pure stupidity. The brilliance comes, however, when Chaplain requests to remain in jail, believing that jail is better than trying to survive poor in a society wherein the poor are rejected. Additionally, it suggests that Chaplin is used to prisons as he has worked in the prison of a factory all his life.

The film should definitely be billed as pro-socialism, because it refuses to glorify the factory times in America, unlike so many capitalism-propagandist films of the era. Where the majority of films glorified the manufactory system as the promise of nationwide power and the way of the future, “Modern Times” shows the factories as they are: a prison for the destitute that poverty forces people into. Later in the film, we see workers lining up to get work in a factory, begging to be put back into prison, much like Chaplin earlier in the film. This is the inescapable cycle of capitalism: if you’re poor, you cannot escape prison.

{ 11/27/2012    4 Assignment 7   

3 responses to “Chalie Chaplin”

  1. Sam says:

    I agree with the statements on how the movie is anti-capitalist, but I don’t think the idea of the film being political is as interesting as your observations on the relationship between machines and humans and how “the worker is no better than the machines that they operate.” The image you attached is a very direct, but compelling way of portraying that idea.

    The comparison of the factory to a prison is also interesting. Charlie Chaplin bounces between prison and work several times before finally deciding to leave the city. It seems like the only place for the poor is either the factory or prison.

  2. Namita says:

    I’m not so sure whether I would go as far to say it’s pro-socialist and anti-capitalist. I think that the film is a general commentary on systems whether it is socialist or capitalist. In fact, there is a moment in the film where Chaplin is holding a flag and the police deem him to be the leader of the communist group and put him in jail. The scene seems to speak more about the ridiculousness of these movements and how it’s about chance circumstances and that anybody could be part of the movement.

    I do feel that there is an inescapable cycle, but whether it is purely capitalist or not is questionable. It’s a cycle of systems, where neither system is good or bad, but they just exist.

  3. John says:

    See Traffic by Stephen Soderbergh

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