Modern Times

Discuss the representation of one of the following themes in ‘Modern Times’: industrialization, progress, gender. In 500 words your critique of ‘Modern Times’ must describe and comment upon specific scenes in the film. Charlie Chaplin’s film “Modern Times” is, in itself, a discussion of progress and of modernism. It is set in the 1930s, a time of great change and great struggle due to industrialism and unemployment. The film enraptures its time period in a light-hearted fashion that examines both the positive and negative effects of modernity, ultimately answering whether progress through loss or stagnancy exclusive of cost is better, with modernity in its most pure form. The film damns modernism for the way it destroys our cultures and traditions, yet revels in the abolition of such ridiculous dreams. Chaplin characterizes Industrialism as a movement that although is designed to speed up production and efficiency, as a byproduct, causes people harm.

This is shown in 22:05 and 28:55 where, due to unemployment caused by industrialism, the American family is torn apart. This is a prominent theme that continues throughout the movie, as the little Tramp and the Gamin are both victims of unemployment and the destruction of their homes. However, Chaplin then goes to make fun of the “American Dream” and society’s goals in scenes 55:07 and 31:50 respectively. In 55:07 the rickety, worn down house that the Gamine and the Little Tramp find symbolize the fragility and downright silliness of the American Dream as it breaks and crumbles under them. It also teases the upper class in 31:50 with the absurdity of starving yourself for social status. It isn’t till 1:10:15 that Chaplin starts to takes a stance on whether change is worth the loss when it is revealed that the Gamine has secured a job for both herself and the Little Tramp. The reversal of gender roles was revolutionary and completely overshadows the thorough deconstruction of the American Dream of which they had held so dear in 55:07 and 43:14.

The deduction being that ultimately, progress is for the greater good. The film goes beyond that, nonetheless, stating that society is not heading towards true progress and is getting held back by its own sense of evolution through Industrialism. Chaplin continuously makes fun of the legal system, upper class society, and in particular, industrialization. These themes stand for society’s goals and through that, their idea of progress. Chaplin subverts this view by making fun of just how ridiculous all these things are. For instance, machines are shown to actually attack people in the scene beginning at 8:10 and Chaplin’s character is shown literally fending off the outbreaks of a machine gone rogue in 1:02:36. They show no progress and only serve to limit society as all these things have a negative impact on the movies characters.

For instance, any attempts made by the Little Tramp to join the movement of Industrialism ends in prison, which, ironically is one of the two ways to escape society’s pressures and goals. The only other way that the Gamine and the Little Tramp are able to move on – in a state of freedom – and continue their lives, i.e. progress, is by escaping from society and starting again, effectively abandoning everything that they held precious. Chaplin states that the way to enlightenment is to leave everything that connects you to society. In conclusion, Chaplin advocates the very extreme of futurist modernity in “modern times” by stating that change is good and that the only way we can truly progress is by forsaking everything.