Chaplin’s film, Modern Times, parodies the unfortunate life of the blue-collar workers during the Great Depression, stating his discontent of their exploitation. From the obscure outbursts of Chaplin to the obvious symbols, Modern Times takes a definitive stance in attacking the industrial institution in its treatment of the every man.
Immediately, the film opens to a screen of a frantic flock of sheep, which then transitions to a group of men going to work. The juxtaposition, serves as the view of how the bachelor’s – as Melville would say – view the working class; nothing more than a group of blind sheep. The laborer receives this depiction to display the degradation their superiors have of them, an unjustifiable treatment for a fellow man. Apart from the animal comparison, Chaplin creates a parallel to the workers and the machines through his obnoxious outburst. His breakdown, displays him going through the factory interrupting the work of the men, but continuing to do his duty, continuing to turn the corkscrew. In a sense, Chaplin can be defined as a dysfunctional machine, since he doesn’t operate in the traditional sense of a mental breakdown of random cries; instead he leaves his station but continues to do his job. This homogenization of man and machine, reveal how to the factory militant, the laborer is just another piece to the almighty machine. Finally, the working class can be defined as nothing more than innocuous animals with machine duties.
Chaplin continues to criticize the industrial machine, by exaggerating the power of the bosses. Chaplin displays the boss’s appearance in a jocular manner, but the intention is to show how controlling the heads of the industry are. The boss’s appearance in the bathroom displays this sense of all seeing and all knowing. In a sense, the boss is their God, deepening the workers’ subordination. Furthermore, the boss lies in his heaven of clear air, while these men suffer under the fumes of the machines.
Retrospectively, Chaplin strikes the industrial institution through subtle symbolism and overstated parallels, breaking the façade of the so-called fairness the establishment creates.