The Importance of Charlie Chaplin's Speech from 'The Great Dictator'
Superhero movies with capes and extraordinary powers who save the world and make us smile with their easy jokes are entertaining. In fact, they help us to switch off when we’re exhausted from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, occasionally we should also take a look at certain movies from the past.
Indeed, it never hurts to dust off the classics occasionally. It often acts as a wonderful healing exercise. What’s more, by doing so, we can also discover some extraordinary facts. Moreover, some productions are timeless and offer messages that remain highly topical in today’s world. The Great Dictator, by Charlie Chaplin, is one such movie that everyone should watch at least once a year throughout their lives.
The speech offered by the tiny Jewish barber who, at one point, has to pose as Hynkel (Hitler), stands out as one of the most memorable moments in cinema. The words, ideas, and messages that form part of the ending of the movie must be remembered for the purpose for which they were created: as an antidote to intolerance and violence.
“I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one other. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way”.
Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator, an indelible legacy
After Hitler invaded France, it seems that Charlie Chaplin felt compelled to include a particular speech at the end of his movie. It was June 24, 1940, when he recorded the four-minute sequence. He felt a firm need to speak out against fascism and seek, above all else, an emotional connection with the viewer by appealing to some extremely firm values.
At the time, the world was falling apart, but many people were still waiting expectantly for the latest movie from this great talent of comedic cinema. In reality, for Chaplin himself, the project was quite a challenge. In fact, The Great Dictator wasn’t just a movie that ridiculed, attacked, and grotesquely characterized one of the most threatening figures of the time.
As a matter of fact, it was also the first time Chaplin had been heard speaking on film. His voice, which he’d kept hidden in his previous movies, like The Tramp, finally came to light. Moreover, it was to leave an indelible message, one that was to last forever.
Waking up sleeping consciences
The cinema has more power than you might think. It transmits sensations and emotions to millions of people. It leaves imprints, ideas that we internalize, and memories that are never erased. Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator unified millions of people with the same feeling, that of the commitment against hatred and violence.
It should be noted that, at the time, no one trusted this movie too much and Hollywood didn’t give it the go-ahead when it first learned of the script in 1939. This was because, at that time, the German market was still important to the US and they saw the movie as a threat. It didn’t matter that the Jewish genocide had already begun. Half the world preferred to turn away.
However, given the events of 1940, Charlie Chaplin didn’t hesitate in obtaining finance for his project and changing the ending that he’d previously planned. That last-minute change and the speech that he wrote in a hurry and with a heavy heart, had terrific results. It awakened millions of consciences.
Today, we also tend to turn away from realities that are desperate for our attention and commitment. Injustices and even great dictators survive. Moreover, virtually the same echoes of the past that we thought had been forgotten still remain. We need to wake up and remember the message of Chaplin’s movie.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.
More than machinery, we need humanity
Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator is now over eighty years old yet remains relevant today. His reference to the fact that society needs more humanity and not so much machinery invites a great deal of reflection. Indeed, technology has advanced a great deal since the 20th century and, just as it happened then, it has a positive and a destructive side.
For example, today, social media brings us closer to each other and allows us to spread information. It’s a powerful weapon, but sometimes it dehumanizes us. In fact, too often, it rises up as a channel that spreads hate, discriminates, and attacks those who are different. More than intelligence – as the barber pointed out in the movie, we need kindness and gentleness.
Let’s keep fighting for a better world
Our world has come a long way since those years when the great powers were engaged in a world war. That said, progress hasn’t necessarily made it a better place, certainly not to the extent to claim that we’ve triumphed as humanity. Sadly, we’re no longer ethical, discrimination and injustice are still in evidence, and wars continue to rage on our horizons.
Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator is timeless because we haven’t solved the problems of the past. We’ve simply dragged them along with us and given them other forms. We live in an increasingly polarized present in which irrationality, extremism, and even violence silently escalate, almost without us noticing.
It’s time to wake up. We must keep fighting for a better world. We must appeal to our humanity and become a committed antidote to the nonsense of hate.
“Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Chaplin, Charles— (1964). Mi Autobiografía. Nueva York: Simon & Schuster
- Chaplin, Charles (1974). Mi vida en imágenes. Nueva York: Grosset & Dunlap
- Hayes, Kevin J. (2005). Charlie Chaplin: Entrevistas . Jackson: Prensa de la Universidad de Mississippi.