Charlie Chaplin is a widely known and prominent British producer, director, and actor with an incredible gift of presenting trivial, urgent issues by means of comedy. His art attracts the admiration of viewers of different ages. Watching Chaplin’s film is a process of discovering the world, as well as the essence of human relations and living being. The richness of emotions, even as portrayed in silent films, and profound context, which Chaplin reveals by employing multiple techniques, make his works stand out among all others. Although at first sight Chaplins works seem to be similar because of his notable comedian approach to filmmaking, each of them is unique even when devoted to a single issue. One may find themselves agreeing with this statement while watching Charlie Chaplins movies The Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940) which examine the aspects of power as a common issue by employing different perspectives. Despite the shared focus, the author operates with contextual, associative, and symbolic tools, which help find rhetorical means and gestures to present the subject matter differently by enhancing the satirical technique in The Modern Times and creating the effect of a parody in The Great Dictator.
The first point for comparison of the aforementioned films is their historical background. Both films preset real historical context. The Modern Times presents the period of Great Depression, the capitalisms onset, establishing new economic and social rules, and the new ruling classes. It tells the story of ordinary worker (Charli Chaplin) who is looking for success in the condition of unemployment as well as numerous other people in that historical period. In its turn, The Great Dictator depicts the period between two world wars and emphasizes the challenge of Nazism. Thus, one can see that in the plots context two different aspects of power turned to be under scrutiny. The film The Modern Times is about economic power, while The Great Dictator is a parody of a political leader and, therefore, emphasizes the political essence of the power.
In addition of the authors diverse stands on power in the films, he depicts the issues differently. First, it is worth noting the manner of initial presentation of the topic. In The Great Dictator, the attitude of the creator towards the subject becomes clear just from the title, which speaks for itself. Seeing the topical emphasis in The Modern Times is more complicated. The story first seems to be a narrative about the challenges of new industrial time in regards to ordinary laborers. Only after a close and attentive examination, one can find the context of characterization of the factorys director. His egoistic, calculating approach to management is a collective image of all the managers of that time whose race for quantity and financial indicators resulted in a collapse of the labor market. Testing the newly designed machine for feeding the employer without breaking the process of production even for having dinner is one of the most vivid scenes telling the viewer what issue is, Thus, the primary focus of The Modern Times is on the factorys high management as well as the ruling class as a whole.
In both films, Charlie Chaplin presents self-deception as a crucial element of power, but in different contexts. While in The Modern Times he emphasizes this aspect as a distorted perception of the true meaning of things and roles, in The Great Dictator, self-deception borders on madness grounded on an inadequate evaluation of ones personality. One of the scenes depicts an accident during which a workers chief is stuck in the mechanism and the worker should feed him by hand. One can see a hint of the employees true power, which is underestimated. It is important to add that extreme imbalance between rulers vanity and workers uncertainty seems to be the presentation of the biggest challenge, which is a crisis of human identity in the world of the time (Ghalian). New working conditions, machinery, and economic tendencies made every employee the seeker of not only the workplace but their new identity. In The Great Dictator, Chaplin uses the technique of roles’ exchange, replacing Adenoid Hynkle with the barber who is the dictators twin. However, this replacement carries a different meaning when comparing with The Modern Times. In such a way, the author tries to show what a good ruler should be like and how he has to use his power.
It is worth mentioning the concept of madness, which appears in both movies in two manifestations. At first, it seems to be a minor and hardly perceptible element. Indeed, Charlie Chaplin uses it to emphasize the central challenge related to the concept of power. To understand this idea, one should be scrupulously attentive to the gestures of the protagonists; one gesture appears both in The Modern Times and The Great Dictator. In the former, it is the moment when Charlie Chaplin raises the spoon to his ear when eating in the prisons dining room. In The Great Dictator, Adenoid Hynkel acts in the same way, but without a spoon. Watching only one of these movies does not allow one to grasp the true meaning of this act, but comparing both of them can help come to an interesting conclusion. In the Modern Times, the worker behaves so strangely under the influence of the drug that he accidentally pours it in his meal instead of salt. One can see that narcotic makes the worker organized, self-confident, and courageous. He has never been in such a state before the accident. In the picture, The Great Dictator Hynkle uses this gesture without any outside influence which leads the viewer to the thought that the power is his drug, making his actions irrational.
This suggestion can be easily verified by examining the context further. The scene where Garbitsch, who is the Minister of Propaganda, tells Hynkle about the potential of being a world dictator is one of bright confirmation of it. The protagonists reaction here is rather unexpected and could not be considered normal. Adenoid claims that he starts to be afraid of himself when imagining such q future as Garbitsch depicts and then hangs on the curtains as a monkey on a liana (53:22 53:23). Then, the authoritative dictator starts dancing with the globe in his hands. Kicking the globe with all possible parts of his body is the core essence of this strange dance with a profound sarcastic meaning. Chaplin shows to what extent a person can be affected by power. He starts believing in his omnipotence and invulnerability perceives self-deception as reality. Right where the viewer can observe the detrimental consequences of such kind of madness, the globe bursts from the dictators kicks. It is easy to identify Chaplins message about the threat of people intoxicated by power to the whole Universe.
One more meaningful dimension of power is emphasized in both films almost identically. Sharing power between men and women is an important contextual aspect depicted quite sensitively without a shadow of satire or sarcasm that dominate the genre. Complicated economical states and unemployment can help influence the roles of women. A significant shift occurs in redistribution of gender power. One can observe how the worker in The Modern Times gradually becomes more and more indebted to Ellen who supports him. Starting from just encouraging him, she later finds a house and equips it, despite it being a transitionally male task. Thus, one can see Ellen is not merely the girlfriend of the protagonist, she is archetypal figure of the changing womens roles (Ephraim 6). The same can be said about Hannah, who presents her radical and courageous position concerning military men abusing people in the ghetto. Moreover, she helps the barber fight and saves him.
Speaking of the genre of both films, it is impossible not to mention the power of humor in Charli Chaplins works. His comedic manner is the primary distinctive feature which justifies itself, enhancing the smallest invisible nuances the film-maker strives to highlight. By utilizing myriads of interacted variables, Chaplins comedy performs the necessary ideological function (Hajdini 201). Humor is the primary tool helping authors challenge the most serious social issues, but not oppress people with pessimism and disappointment. On the contrary, humor motivates and encourages people. Indeed, scholars agree that humor is a complex psychological-emotional phenomenon causing positive influence, without undermining the meaning (Sorce 10). Although Chaplins use of humor to emphasize and depict issues seems to be identical in both movies, it differs enough in terms of technical and emotional aspects. Thus, both plots are aimed at underlining the vices of the rulers, their self-deception and tyranny. However, in The Modern Times Charlie Chaplin present fluent and bright gestures for his jokes, which are funny and endow the movie with a satiric spirit, while in The Great Dictator Chaplin elevates his humor to a qualitatively new level of sarcasm, which makes the viewers ponder rather than laugh.
Charlie Chaplin uses multiple supplementary elements and incorporates small details in both films, presenting meaningful comments in the form of quotes, subtitles, or movements. Thus, in The Modern Times the force of gestures is the primary support element, which delivers the emotional and rational background through Chaplins movements that are sometimes satirically exaggerated. Thus, in order to show how the Worker in The Modern Times is tired of somebodys need to increase the temp of production, Chaplin presents the scene where he cannot stop repeating the gesture of tightening a bolt. He can not stop even after leaving the factory buildings where he tries to tear off the buttons on the dress of a passersby. In The Great Dictator, gesturing, mimics, and movements are mostly used to demonstrate Hynkle’s irrelevance. In the rest of cases, context is supported by the protagonists phrases.
Speaking about rhetorical tools, they likewise differ in both films. Commentaries in The Modern Times brightly reflect the satiric mood of the picture, while in The Great Dictator they carry a declarative function. Thus, demonstrating the hopelessness of the situation of the workers life, Chaplin incorporate the statement he is cured of the nervous breakdown but without work (18:52 18:57). At the same time, in The Great Dictator, the eloquent rhetorical element appears as if accidentally, and viewers should relate it to the context by themselves. Thus, the seemingly accidental claim of the barber’s friend Hannah that she considers all great people … absent-minded presents the central idea of the movie (47:05-47:07).
An optimistic finale is another common element of Charlie Chaplins films. Despite the fact that the contexts of The Modern Times and The Great Dictator are rather serious, challenging, and even pessimistic, both of the films end positively. In The Modern Times, Ellen is disappointed and claims What the use of trying? (1:25:33 -1:25:36). Protagonist calms his friend and makes her laugh. They both start a new life and look forward to the future. Visually, this attitude is represented by the image of a long road, which is a metaphor for opportunities and hopes. The Great Dictator has a similarly metaphorical ending, but Charlie Chaplin uses different symbols, which are the sky and the darkness. These symbols meaning can be easily grasped from the final speech. The Barber claims we are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality while addressing Hannah (2:03:50 2:04:00).
In conclusion, both of the aforementioned films by Charlie Chaplin are considered to be very deservedly prominent. Presenting serious and challenging contexts, the filmmaker succeeds in choosing an original genre and operating in it virtuously to present the multicedeness of reality. The Modern Times and the Great Dictator have many common features, but differ in the manner of comedic approach. They present respectively the satiric and the sarcastic manifestations of the comedy genre. Moreover, the art elements and techniques that the author uses in both of them seem to be complementing one to other. Thus, the context of The Great Dictator in some episodes could not be decoded without watching The Modern Times. They are different, but constitute a single narrative of Charlie Chaplins work.