Modern times is a comedy film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin in 1936. It is one of the best movies in the history of the American film industry. It is considered to be a silent film in which the Little Tramp character talks for the first and last time, by singing. However, we can hear fragments of speaking here and there through audio devices. It seems that by using this fifty-fifty game, Chaplin has decided to say goodbye to the wonderful world of the silent film. But he did it in a brilliant manner.
In Modern Times Chaplin looks rather doubtfully and distrustfully upon the industrialization and the technological process. So quickly does life develop that it is no longer about machines helping people, but people helping machines. There is the danger of a mass automation that threatens society with having no jobs.
Being one of the thousands of employees of the industrial corporations, working at a conveyor belt, and doing the same repetitive movement which requires high accuracy, he eventually suffers a nervous breakdown. He is not able to stop and his hands are moving in the way they are accustomed to, with the only difference that their aim becomes now any object which resembles even just a little a nut.
His condition has been influenced by the failed experiment with the automatic machine which served the meal. If there is any meaning of his craziness, then it would represent the protest of the machine against humans.
We may consider this situation as being both funny and dramatic in its own way. In his Autobiography, Chaplin connects the idea of the film with the conversation he might have had with a reporter in Detroit. He told about the big corporations which attracted young and strong farmers with high wage, and then they would suffer from nervous exhaustion after 4 or 5 years.
Finally, our hero is hospitalized, and then he is discharged as a recent unemployed person. He meets a young orphan girl who understands and supports him more than anyone else. They stick together through thick and thin and never lose hope, but they deal with every situation jocularly.
He tries to survive by adapting to the new circumstances and activities toward which he is guided by life. From a political activist to a prisoner, a night watchman or a waiter, none of them seem to be suitable for him, and he is not suitable for them either.
In the end we hear the voice of the hero in an improvised play. Resignation and acceptance of another life are well depicted in the sunset scene, when the two characters choose a new way.
It is a battle with modern times, with mechanisation and political conflicts. It is the issue of the Little Tramp who hardly fits in society and who is romantic and dramatic in his own way.
Charlie Chaplin’s film is a cry – a cry of the soul, through which he is trying to tell us that in this big crowded world, inanimate machines are replacing human labour at an ever faster rate.
Little Tramp – the character created by Charlie Chaplin, is a man with a funny walk, black hat and unusual moustache.
My autobiography – a book written in 1964 by the famous Chaplin, at the age of 75, about his life and work.