How effective do you think Charlie Chaplin was with his creative challenge to war?
“To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.”
– The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” was released in October 1940, before the United States officially joined the war. It was well received in the US and UK, although it was banned in parts of Europe and South America. Chaplin’s approach to challenging the idea of war was effective because it addressed complex serious issues in an entertaining and widely accessible format. By playing a variety of roles in the film, Chaplin demonstrated how alike all people are, highlighting the insanity of the idea that people should be divided based on race or religion. At a time when there was massive divide between different groups, Chaplin effectively breaks down that divide and shows their similarities. His speech at the end of the film may have a more serious tone than the rest of the movie but it also summaries the point the movie makes about the war: that it was the average people who suffered, regardless of their opinions.
It is worth noting that years later, Chaplin regretted viewing the war in such a lighthearted way when the true horrors of what had happened came to light.
“Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator, I could not have made fun of the ho micidal insanity of the Nazis.”
– My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin (1964)