Charlie Chaplin Tackles the World

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Everyone has heard of Charlie Chaplin once in their lives. There’s no way one hasn’t seen at least a clip from one of his many films or come across a work inspired by him throughout the decades. The character Chaplin created, The Tramp, has made its mark in the film industry due to him being very relatable. The public saw themselves in this character and were convinced that their everyday life was being portrayed on screen which led to them cheering on this man. Despite the genre of his films being comedy and him always using gags to fulfill that, Chaplin still managed to shed light on various political and social problems and has sent many powerful messages to his audiences with just using actions to tell the story and people were able to connect with them.

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The Immigrant (1917) opens with a compressed framing of a ship full of European immigrants heading to New York City. Chaplin uses this framing to display the ship as an unbearable environment even before introducing the different circumstances on board. Right away, Chaplin is bringing sympathy to these individuals by keeping the shot in a tight frame as the camera pans onto each person as the ship is dramatically rocking back and forth to show what they have to deal with the whole trip. The Immigrant was filmed and released during a time where anti-immigration was high and this movie really strived to show the humanity of these newcomers that the public were so against. Eventually the immigrants in the movie arrive to America for the first time and everyone looks in awe at the State of Liberty as they pass the island as they believe they finally reached freedom. The Tramp, along with the other passengers, are then pushed behind a rope as if they were sheep being rounded up by farmers as soon as the ship has been docked. This action shows how immigrants are seen as anything but human beings and this affected the way they were treated when they step foot into this new country. The American dream continues to be shattered when the next scene begins with a tile card that reads, “hungry and broke” which reveals that these immigrants completely arrive with nothing and aren’t helped whatsoever to get settled in. The Tramp searching for fallen change on the ground to be able to afford a meal shows the sad reality of what a person like him had to go through.

Modern Times (1936) was Chaplin’s transition from the silent era to the sound era and he continued to write narratives that revolved around real life issues in his unique comedic way. In this film, Chaplin focuses on the abuse the working class face at their jobs and most importantly the influence technology has on society. This film was taking place during The Great Depression and Chaplin did not choose to blame the Depression on the government or corporations but he pointed fingers at technology. The theme of technology being in control of men is stressed in the opening of the film where it’s revealed that the story will take place in a factory and all workers are monitored by a gigantic monitor. The individuals are forced to work at the fast pace the machines are pushing at which results in the Tramp experiencing a breakdown and rapidly starts to wrench anything that he views as a nut to him due to how quick the machines are producing. While this scene works nicely to make an audience laugh, it also reveals how such boring labour that demands no imagination makes people feel less human and reduces them to nothing but gears in a machine. The Tramp is forced fed at one point by a machine against his will and this expresses Chaplin’s view on the modernization clearly. He believes that technology would soon command everyone’s lives and machines will be doing everything which won’t require genuine human interactions. Chaplin strongly considering the sound effects used in the film as dialogue tells that the sounds coming from machines have a stronger impact than actual interactions between individuals which supports technology becoming much more powerful and influential. It’s ironic how Chaplin had to change with the times to stay relevant within the cinema world due to new technology being introduced and he made a movie where he focused on how technology can bring harm to a society.

The Great Dictator (1940) was Chaplin’s statement towards the dictatorship that was happening in Germany. This was a little before America entered WWII and they didn’t care about what was happening overseas. Chaplin shared his doubts about fascism in the film and hoped the American public would react to the glimpse of how dictatorship looks like negatively and have them want to help. In The Great Dictator, Chaplin has himself playing a barber mistaken as a dictator and he rolls with it. This shows that any simple man can be given a taste of power and be corrupted by it enough to want to cause harm to humanity. As the movie progresses, Chaplin displays dictator Hynkel as someone who acts like a child who must be put to a stop before he gets too much power. Other then the food fight against another leader, a scene that best portrays the childness of the character is the one where Hynkel does a dance with a globe made out of a balloon. Chaplin’s choice in making the size of the globe the dictator is holding larger than a normal globe can represent the dream Hynkel has of world domination. The camera often focuses on just Hynkel as he throws the globe into the air and it shows how the dictator is only thinking of his own desires and vision and completely disregards the needs of those he is ruling over. With the balloon popping, one thinks Hynkel was brought back to reality and realizes this is still all an act but instead he seems to realize the possibility of the big plan failing and he appears he is just as determined to continue with his plans in the next scenes. Eventually Hynkel sees the position he’s in and finds that he could use this opportunity to bring good than harm unlike the others. Chaplin writes the most powerful speech about how soldiers shouldn’t mindlessly follow orders and calls for change within ourselves amongst other things and he chooses to stay on Hynkel the whole time with no cuts and the occasional zoom to emphasize the importance of the words and not wanting the audience to turn their eyes away from the screen. No score is playing during the speech so every word can be captured and that there’s no distractions that can downplay the message.

Charlie Chaplin was truly one of the greatest filmmakers of his century and still is today. His films are generally known by its humor but it runs deeper than that with his unique style in camera shots, cuts, plots and character premises. In cast designs, he chose to not focus on costumes and stage props but on putting more effort into characters’ actions and their facial expressions. Chaplin had a distinguishing technique in filming where his shots are simple but at the same time very complex. Putting aside all the technical things, Chaplin should be applauded to have been able to mix comedy with real world issues and delivering such powerful messages despite the genre. The man who was famous for being silent had plenty to say.

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