Modern Times draws attention as a criticism of alienation of labour with the
mechanisation caused by industry through Chaplin's character "Charlo". In this 1936
production movie, it is possible to see chaotic atmosphere which the Great Depression
brought about in the extent of social and economical ways. In this respect, it is something like
a live recording of history.
After the World War I, the damages on global economy done by the hegemonic
powers like USA, Germany and England are seen clearly. While the sufferings of the Great Depression, the population of unemployed people strike the attentions, the rise of the modernisation brought about by Fordism (Henry Ford) is criticized.
"Modern Times: A story of industry, individual enterprise - humanity pursuits the way of happiness." The movie starts with this text which comes upon the scene of a clock strikes 6. It is very possible for us to come to a conclusion like the effect of perception of time on people is changed drastically. In this "modern" period, one can say that people have to work with the machines simultaneously and actually people are not using the machines, they simply become a part of them. The motions of the workers such as starting working and having a break for lunch with the sounds of bells and their being looked like Pavlo's Dog while performing them can be observed. Charlo actually obeys the machine while he tightens the panels on the strip. He has to keep up with the machine's tempo. While doing this, individual's being mechanised is highlighted. The relationship between the boss and the workers is the reminiscent of the relationship between human and robots. Workers' emotions and basic needs are taken for granted and they are expected to obey their "masters" and make their job easier. That's why, to make them work as much as possible, their pace is being accelerated.
Another detail in the introduction scene is workers' and herd's scenes being given in succession. The human beings who move and act like a herd (which is not actually against their nature) is satirised. "Black sheep" detail is seen in the herd. It is a natural result caused by every rule's bringing about its own exception: it maybe correspondences with the Charlo. I'll come to that later.
The monotonous life which results from the "innovation" of Ford 's (industrialisation and mechanism) production and consumption in bulk, also reveals a sociological trauma with the alienation of labour, economic chaos. In this "modern" mechanised perception of the world, there is a simplicity that every worker can do, a machine understanding that does not require any skill, a moveable assembly and a tempo that are determined by the machines and obeyed by the workers. As a result of all these, individuals' becoming out of being individuals and turning into a mausoleum bring us back to the metaphor of the lamb herd. There is hardly any solidarity among the workers in the movie. Obedience is the basis. The workers who are fed up with Charlo's clumsiness become aggressive with the fear of being apart from the herd. They turn into monotonous creatures who can not internalise the life. Charlo starts to lose his individuality, obeys the system and prefers imprisonment when he finds himself out of prison under the influence of the cocaine which he accidentally got in the prison sequence. Even when the other prisoners revolt against the police, he takes side with the police.
Another example of this mechanisation is seen on the scene where the workers are tightening panels on the strip. Not being able to reach the speed of the machine, Charlo begins the to tighten every round object he sees with the key in his hand. He starts to lose his consciousness. He even jumps inside the machine just to catch the panel that he missed. Among the wheels of the machine, he begins to flow like a piece of teeth of a wheel. On the other hand, when the machines' tempo is accelerated just to save time -time for modern society has become the biggest enemy- the price of the slightest glimpse is very heavy and the whole business is in trouble. It is clearly stated that how unfounded and fragile this system , which seems to be perfect, is in fact unfounded. Absurdity also reveals a bigger drama in the scene when Charlo tries to eat with an automatic feeding machine . This feeding machine which is presented to the factory boss is said to be a necessity to reduce lunch breaks and maximise the time for work. In this scene, his boss' place in the hierarchical order is mentioned, just like the puzzle he left halfway in the first scene. He is just an another wheel among the wheels but a bigger one. In the movie, with the mechanisation and with the cause of it, the beginning of loss of self consciousness, a world order is portrayed in a dystopia of Fordism and "harmony" as seen in the Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
In a scene, Charlo sees the crowd around the ambulance and learns that a night watchman who has broken his leg is being taken to the hospital. Seeing this, the hurries to take his job for himself. Here again, it is emphasized that the system does not look for qualifications and in fact the emphasis is not given to individuals.
However, as I pointed out before, Charlo -maybe the black lamb, can be read as a person who cares about individuality although he can not stitch in any business. He is like a portrayal of a silent community. His sense of sympathy for the Little Tramp proves it. This young woman who has lost her mother and lives in poverty and hunger with an unemployed father and her brothers, returns home with a few bananas stolen from a boat on the quay happily. Afterwards, we see that two characters who made friend with one another are seeing the woman who sends her husband to work in a green scene, and starting to dream about a similar life. Actually on that scene, Charlo makes a mockery of hollow bourgeois life with gestures just like a 19th Century romantic. He only intends to show the woman and himself that he is a human again. As a matter of fact, in the dream sequence, grapes hanging from various places of the house, an absurd life like a cow milked at the threshold of the door for breakfast are depicted. Despite all the struggles they can not be a part of that community. Because they have not been since the very beginning. Movie's ending sequence is optimistic as the title "Dawn" suggests. The characters are as happy as they never were.