The Tramp suffers a nervous breakdown at breakneck speed, his humanity enslaved by grinding machines and overbearing overseers. Charles Chaplin’s iconic persona is a celebration of the dignity of the human spirit over the mechanical machinations of modernity.
Chaplin discovers humor in the daily grind, as the Tramp is comically inept in his job tightening bolts on an assembly line, failing to keep up with the job. The Expressionist set design is awesome to behold as he literally becomes trapped in the gigantic cogs and gears, devoured by the machine. The film was made during the Great Depression and becomes a homage to the working man, as the unemployed Tramp straggles from one comical mishap to the next. His life is invigorated by the appearance of the beautiful orphan girl, and it’s easy to see why Chaplin was infatuated with Paulette Goddard: her expressive eyes and mischievous smile capture your heart.
Chaplin makes some concession to the format of “talking pictures” though MODERN TIMES remains wonderfully anachronistic (even for 1936). Voice is only conveyed electronically through diagetic means such as a radio or television monitor, until he finally gives voice to the intrepid Little Fellow: a wonderfully poetic nonsensical song and dance routine becomes his final (and only) spoken words. Chaplin wanted his alter-ego to remain transcendent and this film was to be the final appearance of the Little Fellow, knowing that he was living in modern times of new artistic expressions; he retires his avatar on that long road towards the future, walking hand in hand with his true love into the sunset.
Final Grade: (A+)