Modern Times (1936, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
Consider one of the following questions as a starting point for an essay. Note that within a given question there will often be a series of related questions. a job will to address as effectively as possible all the related questions.
1.The movie opens with this title superimposed over a clock face: "’Modern Times.’ A story of industry, of individual enterprise-humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness." How seriously does Chaplin’s film take these words? What prevents people in the film from being happy? Does the Tramp find happiness? In what form?
2.Granted that the film was made during the Great Depression of the 1930s and reflects that time, which scenes in the film relate to our own "modern times”? Is Chaplin’s film a political or social critique of American life?, what scenes in particular are critical of the American Way or what is often refer to as The American Dream?
3.Modern Times is full of images of huge carnivorous machines, conveyor belts, gears, dials and switches. The factory is automated. The Tramp tries out an automatic feeding machine with disastrous but hilarious results. What does the film say about the way machines rule our lives? Does the film invites to view the giant, man-eating machines as symbolic? If so, of what?
4.Food is another recurring image in Modern Times. In the Gamine’s (the word means "street urchin," a homeless child) first appearance, we see her stealing food. In a journal, make a list of how food is represented in the film. Is it significant that the Tramp gets “eaten” by the giant carnivorous gears of the factory? How do you account for this emphasis on eating? How does food relate to the film’s central theme?
5.Not everyone suffers equally in the film’s depiction of life during the height of the Great Depression. What scenes in Modern Times reveal class differences? Does the film make a distinction between the "haves" and the "have-nots"? How do the two main characters cope with their low status? What does the film say about social outcasts or people who live on society’s margins?
6.At the end of the film, after the homeless, jobless Tramp and Gamine have spent the night outside by the side of a road, the Gamine says to the Tramp, "What’s the use of trying?" and responds with, "Buck up–never say die. We’ll get along." What significance do you attach to their last words? How has the Tramp shown in the movie that "getting along" is a rule he lives by? Is the Tramp’s upbeat attitude enough to survive in the world of Modern Times? The film ends with smiles…but are these realistic, given that the two main characters are not only jobless but also homeless?
7.Explain how director Chaplin manages to blend comedy with his serious social message. The film is, after all, meant to be funny and make audiences laugh. But is comedy the best way to get across a “serious social message”? Would a drama about an unemployed worker or a homeless man and woman, or, say, about exploitation in the workplace be more effective in driving the point home that the American Dream is in trouble?
8.Chaplin’s film came out in 1936 during the worst days of the Great Depression. Does his film have any relevance to our own "modern times"? Cite parallels between several key scenes in the film with social problems that still plague us today.