The first twenty minutes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times shows the day of an industrial worker and his experiences in the factory. The main character gets overwhelmed with the stresses of the job and has a nervous breakdown. The film addresses and critiques the working conditions in industrial factories.
The film begins with a herd of sheep walking that fades to a herd of men walking to a factory for work. From the get go, the film is critiquing the industrial labor industry by comparing animals to workers. This insinuates that factory workers are even treated similarly to animals. The boss of the factory is right away shown doing a puzzle and reading the newspaper in his spacious office. He flips through a camera feed to oversee the factory and then goes back to relaxing. The film then goes to a scene of the main character and two other men working extremely hard to keep up with a conveyor belt. This stark difference in the work being done by the boss versus his employees is a dig at the management style of industrial factors. The boss undoubtedly receives a much higher salary than the workers in the factory for less gruesome work. It is difficult to watch the workers repeat the same motions on the conveyor belt over and over. It is hard to imagine that the workers have to do that all day, every day. It is understandable that the main character has uncontrollable twitching motions even when he’s not working after repeating the movements for so long. The boss raises the speed of the machines without even checking to see how the workers are handling the current pace. The faster speed causes the already struggling workers have to push harder to keep up. Showing this scene criticizes the detached style of management in factories between the boss and employees. The feeding machine pitched to the boss is all about increasing production to beat competitors. If a lunch break can be eliminated then more work can be done during that time. The feeding machine also shows disconnect between the boss and his employees since the boss doesn’t care for the well being of the employees, just increasing production and profit. It is quite humorous that the boss would even consider the feeding machine. Just by looking at the machine it is ridiculous to think that someone could work while being strapped to it. But that is the whole point of the filmmakers, to show that factories will go to outrageous lengths to increase production while compromising the health of their workers. The boss allows the feeding machine to be tested on a worker, the main character. The machine completely malfunctions, but the boss doesn’t stop it and even still gives it a chance. He doesn’t care that his employee is being completely abused. Once he decides he doesn’t want the machine he just walks away without even acknowledging the employee. This scene also shows the boss’ disregard for the safety of his employees. After everything the main character went through he finally loses it. The stresses of keeping up with the conveyor belt for hours on end cause him to understandably go a bit crazy. The filmmakers show this mental breakdown to shine light on the terrible working conditions and the negative effects they have on workers in the industrial factory industry.
Modern Times clearly shows the damaging factory industry in society. Workers are treated terribly, which causes mental and physical consequences to them. The film addresses this issue in an entertaining and comedic fashion.