Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Great Dictator - Movie Review

Watched 'The Great Dictator' on a whim the other day. I was not sure if I'd watched the video which had been lying with me for a long time and only after I was fifteen minutes into the movie did I remember that I had watched it before. But then, as with any great movie, I was so drawn into the movie that I was glued to the screen for the rest of the movie until the credits went up in the end. Now, more than ever I wonder at the genius of Charlie Chaplin whose first talking picture this movie was. And what a great talking picture debut where he imitates Hitler's speech in a hilarious German sounding language with some curious English words that leaves you in splits. And even more interesting is that this movie was made in 1940 before the Second World War began.

The story itself is brilliant. A Jewish barber who bears a strong resemblance to Hynkel the Great Dictator of Toamainia, volunteers in war and becomes an amnesiac after a flight in which he travels upside down for most part with his pilot. He is sent to hospital and released twenty years later in the regime of Hynkel who has designs of conquering the world - dancing with a globe at one time, pampering his ego most other times as he poses for statues and portraits in flashes. Hynkel has a great dislike to Jews and has them singled out by his stormtroopers by painting their establishments with the word JEW. When the barber returns he is helped by the pretty laundrette next door and the other oppressed Jews. He puts in a resistance of his own in his own funny ways helped by the spirited laundrette. The pilot he flew the plane with is now a General who is sent to the concentration camp for not aligning with Hynkel's pogrom. Enter Napolini of Bacteria, for a deal with Hynkel, which falls flat on waging war against Osterlich, a neighbouring country. After some hilarious scenes between the two egoistic leaders as they try to play psychological games with one another, the real Hynkel gets caught by his own soldiers and incarcerated as he is mistaken for the escaped barber and the barber is mistaken for Hynkel after capturing Osterlich. In his poignant victory speech the barber proclaims Osterlich free and asks the soldiers not to forget that they are human. Even the speech is wonderful to listen to as it is so full of genuine heartfelt feelings for humanity and not for cheap whistles.

It takes genius to make such political commentary on an issue that bothers one so much - that of anti semitism and the horrific pogrom against the Jews, much of the details which Chaplin said he was not aware of when he made the movie. And to make it in a way that we laugh and at the same time understand the futility and absurdity of it all was what makes this movie special. He is amazing in the speech scene where he imitates Hitler, and many other scenes, at conjuring up laughter in the most serious of turns such as the meeting of the two egoistic leaders. Chaplin apparently wrote, produced (Charlie Chaplin Studios), composed the music and acted in the movie and you wonder how talented this man was. I cannot imagine anyone making a movie like this about say George Bush and his invasion of Iraq today. Or the proposed threat to attack Iran. Or about the political state in India today (surely it would get banned, the maker would get targeted and there would be endless debate in the Parliament on how to ban the film). I would love to see one but is there any such quality left in the film making world? And do we have the stomach to face the truth in our increasingly intolerant  country? Wanted badly, a Charlie Chaplin in India.

1 comment:

Rajendra said...

One of my all-time favourites. So much to learn and wonder about..