The Great Dictator in the Age of Donald Trump | Charlie Chaplin Film Criticism
If you’re struggling with events unfolding in the US (and our own poor record re: refugees) then I suggest you watch Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) today.
It’s an easy defence to point to people in the past and simply say, ‘well, everyone was a bit racist back then, we can’t judge them on today’s standards’. Unfortunately, today’s standards are a contested battlefield – but there has always been resistance to the tyranny of dominant racial paradigms. It was never uncontested or universally accepted. When Chaplin released this film, his popularity plummeted and it never fully recovered. In 1954 he was effectively exiled from the United States and his 1917 film, ‘The Immigrant’, in which he kicked a cruel, unfeeling immigration officer in the arse, was used as evidence against him.
‘The Great Dictator’ was Chaplin’s boldest stand against empire. Does it parallel today’s events? No, of course not. History does not repeat itself; but as a thesis in fighting power with comedy, satire, and compassion, it is a masterpiece. It forced uncomfortable conversations that problematised emerging ‘truths’.
Whatever truth you hold to be true, even my own, is deserving of being problematised. I offer this not to aggrieve anyone with views contrary to my own, but to offer transparency about the ways in which I think and see the world. I thank all of you with differing views who likewise offer the logic of their thought processes in the name of an open discussion so that we can continue to challenge each other and provoke mutual thought and reflection.
My personal favourite scene in this film – when Hynkel starts a one man ballet, using the world (an inflatable globe) as his plaything. Has a more powerful deconstruction of power ever been captured on celluloid, has so much ever been said with so little?