Modern Times

Modern Times (1936)  Director: Charlie Chaplin


Modern Times is an excellent film. It was apparently inspired by a conversation between Charlie Chaplin and Mahatma Gandhi about the destructive forces of modern technology. The film is one of Chaplin’s greatest achievements and  it still remains a timely and amusing classic of cinema.

Modern Times is a commentary on the absurdity of modern technological efficiency. Appropriately, it is also a social protest against the advent of synchronized sound in “talkie” films. It is Chaplin’s last ‘silent’ film and it is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

The story opens with a memorable scene of the “the little tramp” being overworked on an assembly line. When he sits down to lunch, he is amusingly force fed by a malfunctioning machine. The monotony of his mechanized job rapidly drives him mad as he cannot stop himself from tightening things frantically like the nuts and bolts on the conveyor belt. The company sends him off for psychiatric treatment. Once released he decides to start a new life, but he unknowingly picks up a red flag that has fallen off a passing car, which turns out to be a part of a communist rally. For this, the tramp is picked up and placed in jail by the police. While in jail he accidentally ingests cocaine that was hidden by another inmate in a saltshaker. He then wanders into a jailbreak in progress, but he unwittingly knocks out the escaping inmates and frees the imprisoned guards who then release the tramp, much to his dismay (the tramp had actually grown to love his comfortable prison life). Once out of jail, his misadventures lead him into a failed job as a watchman where he is mistakenly imprisoned again. Eventually, he goes to live with a homeless girl down by the lake in a shack, and he sneaks his way into another job at the factory, but the workers go on strike and the tramp loses his job again and he is imprisoned (again). Once freed he and the girl get jobs at a restaurant as singers, but the authorities follow them and they flee together. Dejected, they walk off into a comically silly sunset down a country road together as the movie ends.

The film was one of Chaplin’s longest productions, as shooting lasted from 1932-1936, and it was written, directed, produced, and also starred Chaplin. He performed alongside his wife at the time, Paulette Goddard. Modern Times was Chaplin’s first film since City Lights in 1931.

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