Chaplin’s – The Great Dictator
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Charlie Chaplin was born British but made his fame in the US. He liked his women young and his politics left. During McCarthyism, Chaplin was accused of “un-American activities” and J. Edgar Hoover tried to end Chaplin’s US residency – this, after Chaplin had built a very successful movie career and film studio in the US!
In 1952, Chaplin left the US for a trip to England and Hoover revoked his re-entry permit so Chaplin did not return to the US until, briefly, in 1972.
The story is sad because it shows how the system can attack and harm the individual. The story is sadder because the system was wrong! Chaplin was a genius!
An outcast, Chaplin lived through a turbulent childhood. He grew up to be provocative and unruly. And he paid the price for it. But he also got even. His comedy bypassed the censors to feed the consciousness of the millions of viewers and their laughing souls the world over – he slips us the secrets while we are busy laughing!
In Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Americans were cast in the roles of Nazi-like storm troopers. A sleight of hand trick with an explicit punch line! The film is about a man who looks and acts a lot like Hitler. He beats up people and destroys things for no reason and, as the film reveals, that “for no reason” is typical of violence and aggression to the absurd degree! Another character in the film is a barber who is forced out of his shop by military thugs and who then keeps running into “the law” and they keep causing havoc for the poor barber and his nice friends.
As the director, Chaplin juxtaposes historical facts with the effects of the imagination and we can’t help asking ourselves, when these two perspectives are so closely placed, “What if warmongers put an equal amount of effort, intellect and soul into spreading beauty and love instead of causing pain and abomination?”
In the final speech of The Great Dictator, the dictator realizes and confesses his wrongdoings – Do away with national barriers, do away with greed…fight for a new world, a decent world. Then the dictator becomes the naïve barber. Or maybe they were always the same person?
Chaplin, we realize, is asking of us to take responsibility. For he saw us – all of us – as “victims of a system that makes men torture.” The victim and the tyrant are the same. Perhaps, Chaplin reveals, hope is not lost – we have our innocence after all.
“Look up Hannah, Look up!”
*When I was a little girl, my father would hang a white sheet from the ceiling and my mom would make popcorn (on the stove). Then we would watch super 8 Keystone Kops films (Chaplin acting) and laugh ourselves to sleep. I highly recommend you do this for your kids!