Charlie Chaplin, exploitation, factories, industrialization, and sticking up for the working man…

The famous factory scene in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times in which his character goes mad, is probably one of my favorite scenes ever filmed. Chaplin plays a factory worker who’s mind turns to mush after longs days spent working on a fast moving conveyor belt. After taking a much needed break, he finds himself reluctant to return to the grueling labor he abhors. He pretends to tend to his nails while a co-worker takes over for him. His short break doesn’t last long. He ends up being sucked down the belt and into the guts of the beastly machine.

In real life, Chaplin made the film as a dig towards factories and their owners, particularly Henry Ford. Chaplin was convinced that most factory workers were treated poorly and overworked. I believe he felt as though there was a loss of individualism, which is always dangerous. Anti-authoritism is a motif that weaves it way through almost all of Chaplin’s films, which is why I adore him. What I find most striking about the film are the scenes depicting the president of the factory sitting in his office, striking down orders like a dictator. The first thing that came to mind was Orwell’s masterpiece, “1984.” I thought of Orwell because of the scenes in which the president is seen shouting from large screens, which seem to be everywhere from the main factory floor to the men’s bathroom. What is so interesting is the fact that George Orwell published “1984” in 1949, and Modern Times was released in 1936. Charlie Chaplin was way ahead of his time. I try and refrain from using the word visionary, because I don’t dig it, but he was one.

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