Modern Times - Short Critique

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After a conversation with Gandhi in 1931, Charlie Chaplin said: “Unemployment is the vital question. Machinery should benefit mankind; it should not spell tragedy and throw it out of work” (Bourne, 2003). This was the seed that eventually grew into his masterpiece, ‘Modern Times’. At this point in time things were rapidly and continuously changing, and Chaplin believed that the majority of these changes would not be for the better good. The movie depicts the life of The Tramp as a factory worker in a world where labour is considered no more than another component of the machine. The feeding machine for example, was to be implemented as a replacement for lunch breaks, thus increasing production in the factory. This scene in particular shows the superior treatment the machine received from the managers. Chaplin furthermore visualise the impact of the working environment on the workers in the scene with The Tramp as a cog in the machine.

Embedded behind the humour in the feeding machine scene is a more serious matter: the lack of concern for humans. The managers are eager to sell this machine, as the replacement of a simple human function could help the factory to decrease overheads and maximise production. But as the machine begins to break down, the managers are only concerned with the machine rather than the safety of the worker. This idea reflects how workers were often treated as simple costs, where the machine was given much care and attention. The scene where The Tramp is inside the machine also further emphasises the lack of concern for the workers, as during the scene it’s shown that the assembly line operates at a great speed, forcing the workers to conform to this speed. Performing a deskilled, repetitive action for hours on end has driven him crazy, and even when he’s inside the machine all he can think about is turning cogs. It’s clear how the industralised world demands and exhibits monotony and conformity from the workers, and this is where the...
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