Modern Times

Modern Times is the title of a 1936 silent film directed, produced and interpreted by Charlie Chaplin. The film is often hailed as one of Chaplin’s greatest achievements, and it remains one of his most popular films. The main character, The Little Tramp, one of the most memorable character and icon played by Chaplin himself, at the beginning of the film, works as a factory worker employed on an assembly line. The monotony of the work and the compulsion of the high-speed conveyor belt destroy his mental balance and by loosening dangerous screws the factory is turned into a madhouse, a mirror of his mind.

topmodtimesWhat seems to be “just” a comedy is instead a parody of a real and cruel reality that affected the society during the Great Depression. The industrial revolution, by contributing to the realisation of what we call “modernity” today, has also brought some negative aspects, some of which people had never experienced before.
The inhuman and cruel condition lead the factory workers not only to social struggles and disorders, such as strikes or riots, often violently repressed, but also to unstable mental conditions due to the harshness and repetitiveness of the work.
While rich people became even more rich, the poorer, as always I’d say, started to become even more poor by selling the products of their work and themselves to the richest.Schermata 2015-10-27 alle 23.01.28

This film is a revolt against the subordination to the machine and a portrait of a mechanised society. In one of the funniest scene of the film, Chaplin is forced-fed by a “modern” feeding machine which results as a complete failure. The irony of the scene hides actually a harsh reality where even the most natural needs, such as eating, are subjected to machines. By watching this scene the first thing that came up to my mind were fast-foods or lunch counters, which somehow, with a bit of imagination, have become our new “modern” feeding machines.

Another scene that made me laugh and reflect at the same time was the one in which Chaplin ends up assuming cocaine by mistaking it for salt. Even this scene hides instead a dark reality: the work in the factory as well as the misery which surrounded them were so hard that many workers could find comfort just in things like alcohol, drugs etc. The result of this process is a dehumanised society, in which fighting seems to be the only answer: fighting against other men (strikes, riot etc.), fighting against machines (Luddism), fighting against life and reality (assumption of drugs or other addictive substances).

Prison seems to be the only place where Chaplin wants to stay, a place in which he is not subjected to draining work and another way to exclude himself from the cruel and dark reality of the “outside” world.

Towards the end, after Chaplin and Ellen met, the shopping centre becomes a new protagonist of the film. I think the shopping centre is the ultimate illusion of wellness that society has created. Once again both Chaplin and Ellen seem intoxicated, this time not by drugs, but by the richness or at least the illusion of it.

After other adventures, the film ends with them walking together down a road at dawn, towards an uncertain but hopeful future.1280x720-_BU


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