It’s all about time and efficiency

Although Charlie Chaplin’s silent film, Modern Times, appears on the surface to be just a satirical comedy about a little man with a funny mustache, it efficiently demonstrates the detriments of industrialization and technology. The viewers are first introduced to this film by the vision of a large clock. This immediately sets the main idea for the film that time is essential. To the factory, time is of utmost importance and the sole purpose of technology is to reduce time and increase efficiency. The large display of the ticking clock in the opening of the film emphasizes this notion. Consequently, the only words spoken in this silent film are the factory owner’s voice telling the workers to speed up their production. Again, the factory is only concerned with the time it takes to get tasks done; it does not care about the individuals attending these machines. The factory worries about efficiency, and the workers, especially Chaplin, are subjected to a time full of monotony. Although the factory is saving time and increasing efficiency, the factory becomes torturous and the workers are driven into a blank state. Chaplin is so focused on his assembly line of tightening bolts that when the line stops, he keeps continuing on the women’s buttons behind him. Chaplin is no longer thinking; the repetitiveness of his job has made his mind vacant. He keeps continuing once the job is done, as that is all his brain processes.

The importance of time is shown shortly again in the film when businessmen come to sell the factory the Billows Feeding Machine. This machine reduces the time it takes for the workers to eat lunch and will allow for more efficient industrialization. However, this machine cuts out the time for the workers to be humane. Lunch hour gives the workers a time to converse, clear their brains of the factory, and actually think. Lunch hour provides the workers the opportunity to actually portray human qualities, and this machine, although making the factory better off, again reduces the workers’ brains to nothingness. Modern Times clearly demonstrates how the factory, obsessed with only time and efficiency, dehumanizes their workers and solely cares about the best production possible.

5 comments
  1. This is a great point, and I didn’t notice the big clock at the beginning of the movie. I really like the idea that you bring up about lunch hour. I completely agree that human to human interaction is the basis of sanity. Without socializing, any work job would be torture.

  2. I agree with you, Ali. I also noticed the clock and the importance of time. Human interaction is the basis of sanity. Like in Neuromancer, I personally believe Armitage went crazy because the technology in his body controls his emotions and stops him from interacting on a human level. His “television eyes” connected with Molly, not his own eyes. This common theme of lack of human emotion or interaction has been seen in almost every novel, short story, and piece we have covered.

    1. I agree that time seems to be emphasized by the film, especially to point out the dehumanization of technology because the factories care more about time and efficiency than they do humans. Maybe it is also emphasized because the film is trying to imply that there is only a matter of time before factories and technology ruin human civilization altogether and that we are running out of time as a population.

  3. Nice observation of details, Ali. There are other scenes of industrialized labor happening in the film as well, including the cafeteria where the Tramp gets his food before getting himself arrested. Think about how the food on Emory’s campus is produced/procured…

  4. Ali, I completely agree with your observation that time seems to be of the essence in Chaplin’s Modern TImes. As you clearly stated, time is the most essential element to running a factor. That is the purpose of a factory after all, to produce large quantities of something in a quick and timely fashion. In addition, i think it is important to understand the meaning of time in this movie on a larger scale. Maybe Chaplin’s message to his audience is that timing is everything. That despite the fact that time is essential in a factory work place, where we are at a certain time can also determine our future.

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