‘Modern Times’, an all-time classic was made in 1936, seventy-seven years ago. But it is not the hilarious situational comedy alone that lends the movie its timeless character. There is more to draw from the film than the obvious amusement it offers. True, the film is labelled under the ‘comedy’ genre by default and there can be no dispute about it. But a closer look could tell us that Charlie Chaplin’s theme was born of hunger, poverty, pain and suffering that he had witnessed. If you read about and have some understanding of the Industrial Revolution, the infamous Assembly Line method of production in factories and the Great Depression of the 1930s, I wonder you won’t be able to laugh as much watching the film as you would do otherwise. The appeal of Modern Times lies in the fact that the lessons of its theme extend way beyond the frontiers of the period in which it was made and the realities that inspired its making. The lessons hold good to this day. What lessons?
One: If you are a manager, you would do well to recognize that you are likely extract better output from your human resource by creating conditions that make work enjoyable rather than focussing entirely on things like the quality of machinery and the strength of the employment contract terms. If you fail to see it you will only end up driving the people working for you crazy leading to chaos.
Two: The supreme power of the human will notwithstanding, as Steve Jobs said, there is something called karma or destiny whatever you call it and you must believe in it. You might only be waving a flag just to alert its owner and that could make you a unionist instantly, a leader the next moment and a prisoner the moment after that. Not to deny the philosophy of Ayn Rand but the sad fact is that our control over our lives – of what we do and what we don’t, what happens and what doesn’t – is quite limited. Remember the corporate truth which says that career planning is an oxymoron?
Three: All of your problems could suddenly dwindle to dimension of a speck the moment you find someone with whom you share a chemistry. You know, chemistry is a wonderful that makes a ramshackle old shed feel like the Buckingham Palace. Suffering, if inevitable, is less terrible when there’s someone to share.
The bottom line in the style of the film’s narration is that there’s something that can make even the darker and uglier side of life entertaining. That’s what you call perspective – being able to take everything in your stride and laugh it off. It may look like a helpless compromise but it has its own value when there’s no other option, doesn’t it?