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Teaching Materials

Modern Times (1936)


Chaplin’s unchanging character, a tramp, finds himself in the “Modern Times” this time, trying to withstand the challenges of modernity, the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression and total unemployment.

XX Century, USA of 1930s

  • Charlie Chaplin (Charles Spencer Chaplin) is an English director and actor. Silent era of American film, for movie buff, is actually associated with Chaplin. He has been a producer for his own films since 1916. In 1919, together with Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, he founded the United Artists Corporation (UA).
  • Chaplin himself was the director of his own films, the lead actor, the composer. He was the only person in the history of cinema who, with all its expressive techniques, adapted cinema to his own persona.
  • “Modern Times” is Chaplin ‘s last silent film. Created in 1936, during The Great Depression in America. It was the global economic crisis that began in 1929 and lasted for almost 10 years.
  • It is easy to see the influence of Max Linder on Chaplin’s films. Linder was the comedian of the silent era of French cinema, to whom Chaplin even dedicated several films. The American director worked in cinema for 75 years. Chaplin died on Christmas Day in 1977, at the age of 88
  • In 1965, Chaplin wrote an autobiography that also included information on about 80 films he had made. All of Chaplin’s films, including The Circus (1928), were silent. However, many films were later re-released with music, like “City Lights” and “Modern Times”. His last film is A Countess from Hong Kong (1967).
  • In 1989, the Library of Congress considered The Modern Times a culturally important film and decided to preserve it in the US National Film Registry.
  • Modern Times depicts a time of great depression, the total famine that reigns in society is found in numerous episodes of the film. In what artistic ways does Chaplin try to portray the world of rich and poor people? How do you describe the characters?
  • How fair is the society portrayed in the film, the girl steals bread for a hungry sibling, but she is caught by the police. She “breaks the law”, but no one asks for the real reason. In what ways does a tramp try to help him?
  • In the shoplifting scene, one of the robbers is a former employee of a tramp who has lost his job, he says such words: We are not thieves, we are just hungry. What does this scene express?
  • During the Industrial Revolution, human labor was replaced by machines. Technical progress has even changed human behavior and personality. What is Chaplin’s attitude towards all this?
  • How does the film reflect the contrast between technical progress and the Great Depression?
  • Why is the film called “Modern Times”?

Write about this film
Technical progress in the industrial society is the main topic of the film. Social and economic problems caused by the Great Depression are revealed. In total distress, a tramp character becomes one of the factory workers, who, like most of the employees, lost his jobs. Historically, hundreds of thousands of unemployed people have staged protests across the United States. When writing a film, try to go beyond just describing the story line and consider the film in terms of epoch-making contexts. Tramp laughs at modern times and technical progress. From which episodes of the film is this attitude of the director evident?

Individual activities
At the beginning of the film, one of the first shots is of a flock of sheep being replaced by a shot of people going to work. The director’s artistic intent is obvious, he equates the people involved in the service of the system with a flock given direction and dynamics by one person, this seemingly harmless shot is an expression of one of the main ideas of the film. Conveyor labor of man, when man as part of a system, a mechanism, person is lost in daily routine. Chaplin’s pessimistic and ironic-sarcastic mood is evident in a number of episodes of the film: the testing of a new food machine that goes out of order, the “big brother” suddenly emerging from the mirror in the bathroom, who controls everyone and everything!

It should be noted that the English writer George Orwell wrote “1984” 13 years after the release of the film. But Chaplin’s on-screen character is very similar to Orwell’s literary character. For individual work, we recommend that you look for additional biographical information about Chaplin, in addition to George Orwell’s “1984”.

Group work/additional activities
Curriculum links: History

The first sound film was made in 1927, but Chaplin was making silent films until the late 1930s. Discuss what was the reason for this? Why do you think Chaplin did not make a color and sound film? New Times is his first film in which the author’s voice is heard. He wrote music for the film, which later became the inspiration for a number of musicians. Discuss Chaplin’s character, what influence he had on Hollywood, and vice versa, how the “rules” of Hollywood at the beginning of the new, sound cinema, affected his persona and filmography.

Additional activities:
After discussion and group work, students can visualize the narrative. Create a wall newspaper or electronic presentation where you present information about the Great Depression.


As a result of watching the film, discussion and writing a review in which it is necessary to use epoch-making contexts and the above recommendations, the student will be more aware of cinema of Charlie Chaplin.


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