Comedies have long been a staple of the American cinema. Few stars of the cinema are as well known or as influential as Charlie Chaplin, whose name is synonymous with the comedies from the silent film era. While his slapstick style is unmistakably influential to comedy, his ability to infuse social commentary into the genre is somehow missing in today’s comedic movies. Through a series of comedic sketches, Chaplin is able to incorporate a strong liberal social commentary into his comedic film, Modern Times.
The first of the many segments in Modern Times, Chaplin takes a stab at the shape of the industrial complex of the era. Sound is incorporated heavily into this social commentary. The buzzing of the metallic machines, the rhythmic pounding of a steal hammer, and the turning of screws at the hands of our protagonists all provide an aesthetic of order to a structured assembly line to the movie. The most important use of sound is integrated in voices. Voices are not heard directly by the speaker, but through machines. This all creates an isolated environment for our protagonist among the cold machines that surrounds him. Personality is removed from the factory until we see the Tramp, who eventually suffers a nervous breakdown due to the monotonous activities of the factory. The attention given to the efficiency of the industry can be seen in where the Tramp is ordered to get back to work after taking a smoking break in the bathroom. Another dehumanizing aspect of the factory scene is when they test the machine that helps people eat lunch. The dehumanization of the factory is shown throughout the beginning of the film.
Poverty is another topic of interest for the film. Both our protagonist and his love interest face poverty throughout the film. Children can be seen starving and the female protagonist has to steal to eat. Chaplin takes a stance that shows the devastation and desperation of the people suffering. Chaplin’s character has it so rough in the outside world that he intentionally tries to get thrown back into prison
As the movie reaches its conclusion, glimmer of hope withstands for our two unemployed leads. They smile as they walk down the highway to an unknown fate. The bittersweet optimism experienced by our protagonists makes us hopeful of a change in the world. While Modern Times creates a social statement by constructing a world where our two heroes cannot withstand the dehumanization and poverty of the era, the ending of the movie leads us thinking that there is hope somewhere in this world.