Perhaps that is why movies of Chaplin are ageless. You laugh and cry with him as a child and as a ‘grown up’, but as the latter, you realize the true genius of the man.
Art without commentary on things around it is worse than useless, a mere trinket, soon forgotten. This movie proves that the medium can provide entertainment and make a profound political statement as well, while never becoming preachy or descending into propaganda.
And the best way to make a statement, especially a political one, is to make it through a satire. And this is what this movie does brilliantly…
The very first scene gives a clear indication of what is to follow – a herd of sheep morphs into people coming out of a factory while the voice over narrates the joy of pursuit of happiness via modern capitalism.
Chaplin is a worker in a factory, a place where literally everything is controlled and the worker is no better than another cog. The boss is a like Big Brother, appearing on TV screens (even in the bathroom) and commanding the work to be speeded up (all the while himself doing nothing except work on jigsaw puzzles). There are many memorable scenes in the factory sequences – that of Chaplin trying to keep up with his work of screwing nuts, being force-fed by a feeding machine which is supposed to increase productivity (by cutting down on lunchtimes) and of course of Chaplin having a nervous breakdown.
This was made at the time of the Great Depression and Chaplin proves his genius by weaving into the story all the tensions, the helplessness, the dehumanisations that the common man went through in trying to maintain his dignity. Right from trade-unions to robbers trying not to starve, to street-smart yet vulnerable gamins trying to get by, Chaplin brings in every aspect of society at that time – all the while, never losing his comic touch. He pairs up with an doughty orphaned gamine girl (Paulette Goddard) – making a team of two, a team that is determined to survive at all costs.
Amidst all the gloom of the times, the two are refreshing in their innocence and their unwillingness to let go of their small dreams. The scene where the two dream of a home together is hilarious as it is touching.
The film ends with them walking towards the horizon, not giving in to failure. The last lines of the movie pretty much sums it all up –
Gamine: What's the use of trying?
Chaplin: Buck up – never say die. We'll get along.
As simple as that…
When it ends, you realize that you have laughed with abandon at the all of the crazy scenes (the waiter scene, Chaplin’s nonsense song, the roller skating scene among many many others) and have also been touched profoundly.
It is a movie that makes as much sense today as it did seventy years ago. Except the superficial looks, nothing much has changed really…
A movie not to be missed. Chaplin and film-making at its absolute best…