Depression

Anxieties of ‘Modern Times’ still with us

The struggles of a worker played by Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” seem all too familiar today.

A new restored version of “Modern Times,” one of the greatest films in the Hollywood canon, has recently been released.

The struggles of a worker played by Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” seem all too familiar today.

A new restored version of “Modern Times,” one of the greatest films in the Hollywood canon, has recently been released.

The film, which came out in 1936, vividly captured the anxieties that gripped industrial workers at the height of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the comedy works as well today as it did over seventy years ago, another sign that all is not well with our economy.

In the opening scene, viewers see the Little Tramp, played by Charlie Chaplin, working on an assembly line. Many generations of viewers have laughed as they watched Chaplin try to keep up with the mind-numbing repetition of bolts that must be tightened as they make their way to him on the conveyer belt.

Whenever he or his co-workers stop, for even a second, they must frantically scramble to catch up. Chaplin suffers a nervous breakdown and is placed in a hospital.

His misfortune continues. When the Little Tramp leaves the hospital, he steps right into the front lines of a communist march. He is mistaken as one of the leaders of the protest. He is arrested and thrown into jail. The Little Tramp eventually escapes during a jail break.

Much of the rest of the film follows the Little Tramp and his girlfriend, the Gamine, as they imagine a life of middle-class luxuries. The two break into a department store one night, experiencing what it would be like to enjoy all the new goods that were being offered in the emerging world of mass consumption.

In one scene, the Tramp and the Gamine rest by a tree outside a nice neighborhood, watching a couple say goodbye.

“Can you imagine us in a little home like that?” the caption reads. They think about what it must be like before a policeman tells them to move along. Later, they have a chance to live their dreams, but they must do so in a broken-down shanty where the walls fall over and a wood plank keeps crashing down on Chaplin’s head from the ceiling. This is their reality.

“Modern Times” seems all too familiar for many Americans who are living through an economic nightmare in 2010. Although working conditions for many Americans have vastly improved since the 1930s and citizens can count on certain basic provisions upon their retirement, current economic conditions have created the same kind of despair captured by Chaplin in this film.

CNN Articles© 2010 Cable News Network.

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