As Karl Marx suggests that “material life appears as the end, and labor, the producer of material life…appears as means”, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times(1936) exhorts, in numerous ways, that the machine age devoured men both physically and emotionally, breeding a new lineage of ‘human machines’. There is no respect, time or space for individuality or human emotions in this period of modern mechanical industrialization.
From the establishing factory shots to the President’s surveillance cameras, the workers are constantly monitored. The workers are merely perfunctory components of the assembly line, and their concern for the effectiveness of the production process is prioritized over any human emotions. This can also be seen in both the two life-threatening scenes where the human is literally consumed by the machine, where both the mechanic and protagonist find no indecorum in going on about their duties and routine with lack of reactions. The flat lighting techniques throughout the film also represent a lack of depth in humanism. The factory workers only chase after the crazy Tramp when he pulls the lever and disrupts the functions of the assembly line, but immediately return to work when it is fixed. It is as if they are systematically programmed in some way, and perhaps the Tramp squirts mechanical oil on their faces to differentiate himself from the other withdrawn ‘human machines’.
Although sound in motion pictures was introduced a decade prior to Modern Times, Chaplin’s mainly silent film demonstrates the feeble human voice, if any, against the destructive power of machinery. The ambient sounds of machinery are accentuated throughout the film, especially in the early factory scenes where there are constant droning and clanking noises coming from the smallest of machines. The human voice on the other hand, is only ever audible when delivered through a machine. All other human speech is expressed in printed subtitles. The fact that the Feeding...
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