This presentation and discussion focuses on Chaplin’s iconic Modern Times (1936) with some consideration of his other films to echo his recurring interrogation of the sphere of work. Chaplin’s characters are driven by their dreams—for happiness, prosperity, “normal” pleasures—but all too often, these dreams are exposed to be misleading and illusory. In that case, we’re forced to ask, what is the role of happiness and dreams in the modern worker’s life? We will look at two movies that bookend Chaplin’s oeuvre: The Masquerader (1914) and Limelight (1952). In each film, Chaplin presents highly nuanced views on the effect of convention and dreams, external pressures and interiority on the modern worker.
This leads us to a section of Modern Times in which he explicitly visualizes the “Suburban Dream.” Chaplin’s character paints a wild vision of middle-class prosperity for his beloved Gamin: a suburban house overflowing with marital love, milk straight from a cow, and enormous steaks for dinner. However, Chaplin is all too aware that the Everyman’s dreams are unrealizable in society as it stands. In the concluding section of the presentation we will consider Chaplin’s idea that dreams can decay an appreciation of lived experience, and we will debate the need for flexibility to successfully navigate our own modern times.