Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin is a 1936 film that shows the life of characters as they strain to adapt to a modernized and an industrious world. It depicts characters in financial conditions and in search of desperate unemployment that was as a result of industrialization in the Great Depression period. Through the movie's representation of characters and the song Chaplin uses, the effects of the Great Depression and the inhuman conditions among factory workers are presented. It is clear that Chaplin resents the mechanized society that saw individuals turn to drones. The film reflects a critique of the twentieth-century society, that which needed transformation and reorganization in order to bring positivism in the society. In viewing the movie, it is clear to the viewer that Chaplin represents a society that desperately needs reforms, and challenges the company owners who remain adamant of change as they fail to understand the crisis present at the time. In general, Chaplin presents a rational way of looking at a society which needed modification through invoking rational reasoning to the viewers.
The comedy shows Charlie, a factory worker in a hectic age, which is dominated by the use of machines and industries. At the beginning of the movie, Chaplin is seen to industriously work on a mechanical conveyor belt and eventually breaks down due to the intense work. Simultaneously, he is taken to the hospital to receive medical attention, where he recovers and later discharged (Heller, 2018). Having left the factory job, Chaplin is caught in a street riot, mistaken to lead the riot, and eventually arrested. In jail, he attempts a jailbreak, consequently rewarded with a special cell having home comfort. Just after he had started enjoying the new life, he is released from prison, against his will, as he saw jail as the ideal place for him ("Modern Times (1936)," n.d.). The first job he gets is a shipyard but gets fired for doing wrong things, and finally resolves to try his best to get back to jail. He meets a girl who escapes from the police before she is taken to prison by juvenile officers. Chaplin takes her blame when she is almost arrested for stealing food but does not succeed to savage her. He later intentionally eats at a cafeteria without money to pay, arrested and taken t prison for a second time, meets the girl in jail, and later escapes together to become inseparable companions. Eventually, Chaplin is employed as a night watchman in a store, where unfortunately he is arrested after an invasion by thieves in his first night (Heller, 2018). After release from jail, he meets the girl again, now working at a restaurant, and assists him to get a job as a singing waiter. After the juvenile officers finally track her down, Chaplin helps her escape and walk down a road ready to face life and whatever it presents for them.
The film represents a society that has evolved and that seeks to explain human phenomena through natural law and science. He strives in the film to represent a progressive state of human understanding and progressing knowledge ("Auguste Comte (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)," 2008). Notably, a society evolves through three stages; the theological stage, the metaphysical stage, and the positive stage. In the theological stage, human society seeks to explain physical phenomena through religious beliefs, and is the most basic of the stages in human development (Hewett, n.d.). The metaphysical stage is nothing but a transitional stage where people's assumptions, especially religious assumptions, are brought into questioning. The final stage, the positive stage brings forth the notion of positive philosophy, in which human society has much evolved as compared to the other stages. They finally come into a realization that world events and natural phenomena can be explored and explained through science and reason ("Auguste Comte (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)," 2008). The means of knowledge at this final stage is mainly observation and reasoning. It is under this stage that Chaplin basis of his film as he critically examines human society and explores the events that surrounded the human society at the time. In another world, the society represented in the film is at the very last stage of human evolution.
By saying that the society is at the positive stage, what is meant is that human beings are in defiance with the daily phenomena, challenges their daily experiences through reason. Primarily, the film is an accurate representation of society at the time when it was composed. Instead of basing human experience at the industries, and selfish industry owners who are materialistic on religious assumptions, Chaplin uses characters who challenge these very experiences ("Auguste Comte (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)," 2008). Personally, he shows that human beings are to be taken as humans, and not drones, no wonder he breaks down after an inhuman engagement at the industry. Secondly, he represents a struggle to find justice, economic empowerment through employment, poverty, and a human being in search of mere happiness. This happiness cannot be found in any other way apart from getting a decent job and thus earn a living ("Modern Times (1936)," n.d.). He strives to fight and defend the girl he meets almost getting arrested, for fighting for survival through stealing food. It is these incidences that show Chaplin's rational examination of modern human society.
In relation to material development, the film represents society at the positive stage, which is characterized by industrialization (Hewett, n.d.). The movie represents a progressive modern world that is characterized by industrialization and that which exploits human labor and unwilling to accept reorganization. Notably, at the time Chaplin wrote the comedy film, he had toured on a world tour between 1931 and 1932 in the continent of Europe, and he realized how nationalism had risen and how depression had affected the society through unemployment and automation (Heller, 2018). His work evidently shows the effect of the many economic theory books he read based on utopian idealism, which resonated around equitable distribution of work and wealth. These experiences are clearly evident in Modern Times where he employs reason under what, under Comte three stage theories, may be called the positive stage. He uses reason to challenge the status quo at the time, and address the challenges that were so prominent in the 20th century and still continue to plague the 21st century (Hewett, n.d.). He is hence seen as a factory worker working inhumanly on a conveyor belt and as a guinea pig. Through his character, he addresses challenges such as strikes, poverty, unemployment, strikebreakers, economic inequalities, political intolerance, narcotics and tyranny of machines (Heller, 2018). His is an idea to transform society.
In conclusion, Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin is a masterpiece of work that represents a society in the twentieth century that has evolved to the positive stage. Chaplin represents a character who strives with poverty, unemployment and inhuman treatment by the economically elite individuals in the society. Through his experience, we see a society that has advanced beyond the theological and the metaphysical stage into the positive stage. In terms of material development, the positive stage represents industries, which characterizes Chaplin's society. Notably, the movies are a critical view of the society undergoing industrialization and the very human phenomena characterizing human experience. It shows a society plagues with poverty, strikes, unemployment, strikebreakers, economic inequalities, political intolerance, narcotics and tyranny of machines. In all this, he uses reason, as opposed to religious beliefs to examine society.
Auguste Comte (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). (2008, October 1). Retrieved March 24, 2019, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/comte/
Heller, J. R. (2018, February 8). A Review of Charlie Chaplin's Film Modern Times - Janet Ruth Heller. Retrieved March 24, 2019, from https://www.janetruthheller.com/a-review-of-charlie-chaplins-film-modern-times/
Hewett, C. (n.d.). Auguste Comte - High Priest of Positivism. Retrieved from http://www.thegreatdebate.org.uk/Comte1.html
Modern Times (1936). (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2019, from https://www.filmsite.org/mode.html
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