How Charlie Chaplin Movies Helped Me Get Through 2020
Updated: Jan 24, 2021
It's no secret that 2020 was an agonizing year for all of us. Unless you're a multi-millionaire actor or influencer having parties and/or quarantining in your $10 million dollar Hollywood estate, the year absolutely sucked.
I was in my sophomore year of high school when the pandemic first swept across the United States, by March 12th my school had shut down and what had promised to be a two week break turned into a permanent exile from school. Months of nothing but lounging around the house went by in what seemed like an instant. Without any contact from my friends and a staggering lack of productivity, everything seemed hopeless for a while. In the following months came the Black Lives Matter protests, the anti-masker revolution and the most polarizing event of all, the 2020 US Presidential Election.
Having to sit through the Presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was mentally exhausting. I found myself being constantly torn between staying informed and taking a break for my mental health. As November got closer with each day and the stress continued to burden me I figured that I just needed something to take my mind off the world. Out of all the places in the world I could've looked for solace I ended up finding it in the silent films of Charlie Chaplin.
I first watched Modern Times on October 23rd 2020 and a million more times in the following weeks. There was something about the absurdist comedy that made it so timeless and so universally lovable it made me realize just what my life had been missing those past few months and that was something non-polarizing. With all of the chaos that 2020 had to offer it seemed like every form of entertainment was made either for political reasons or a response to the pandemic but to get a film with the sole purpose of making people laugh. Above all, these silent films just felt like they had good intentions and were made to entertain a group of people rather than to make boatloads of money.
The next Chaplin film I watched ended up becoming my favorite and now even sits on the list of my favorite movies ever was none other than 1940's The Great Dictator. A film so controversial it's difficult to imagine how it was green-lit in the first place. But above all that, this ended up becoming one of my favorite movies the second I finished it. It's interesting, because I enjoyed Modern Times so much due to its lack of political substance but I loved The Great Dictator sheerly because of how political it is. Many, many watches later I'm still amazed at how the film is able to blend effective comedy with an absolutely devastating subject matter like The Holocaust. And who could forget that outstanding monologue during the final scene that still holds true today. I don't think I will ever stop thinking about it, I believe everyone, especially during these times should watch that monologue at least once.
On November 3rd, the night of the election itself I found myself absolutely desperate for an escape. Even as a very privileged person in the United States it made me fear for the safety and healthcare of myself and my fellow women if Donald Trump were to get a second term. After hours and hours of being glued to my television watching the live vote count I finally caved. I couldn't take it anymore and I needed an escape and where else could I retreat to but back into the films of Charlie Chaplin. This time it was 1925's The Gold Rush and although a silent comedy about tilting houses and boiling boots for food wasn't going to solve a national election, it sure did give me a lot of comfort for a mere 95 minutes. For the rest of the night my stress and complete dread melted away with each scene like magic. Using absurdist comedy to successfully cause somebody to get through a pandemic, national election and the utter nightmare that was 2020 is just a testament to how brilliant of a filmmaker and comedian Chaplin really was. It's the kind of genius that only comes once a century and I really wish more people my age would check out those films that helped me through so much.
2020 was not a good year, some days it will be hard for me to think of a single good event that occured. However I will always be grateful for how much great art and film that I was able to discover. I don't think I would be able to get through the year without these incredible films and I hope you have found similar solace whether it be in a book, music or movies like myself.