Ask most people what they know about Charlie Chaplin and they will probably respond with “Silent Movie Actor” but ironically his most powerful performance contains quite possibly the finest speeches in the history of cinema.
In this digital age of CGI and summer blockbusters, it often feels like older cinema is not only under appreciated, but can also feel irrelevant or uninteresting to many movie goers in these celebrity obsessed times, but the incredibly powerful monologue from arguably Chaplin’s finest hour, feels more relevant now than it did in 1940 and feels strangely prophetic.
As soon as you hear the words “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. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.” You cannot help but see the parallels of 1940 and 2014, where ultimately we all want the same thing, but sadly despite the advances in technology, we really haven’t progressed very far in nearly 75 years since the film’s original release.
Paulo Nutini also referenced this amazing speech in his track Iron Sky where towards the end of the song, the familiar speech begins
“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. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure”
If you are reading this and can spare 5 minutes, I strongly urge you to soak up this scene, which I promise will overwhelm you and certainly make you question how far we have progressed as a society, but be warned you may even shed a tear.
Here is the full Speech from The Great Dictator (1940) by Charlie Chaplin
The Jewish Barber (Charlie Chaplin): 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 men, white. We all want to help one another. 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.
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 as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.
Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. 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. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.
Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.
Let us all unite. 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 fulfil their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”
Who could have thought that the man who made his name in silent cinema, went on to make one of the most powerful and memorable speeches in the history of cinema and put 1.5 Million dollars of his own money to make the movie happen way back in 1940.
The speech is not just about the words but the emotion and intent in which they are delivered and leaves you thinking that after nearly 75 years, why can’t we all just get along and put others before selfish greed?
This monologue will sit alongside Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis speech in Jaws and Sidney Lumet’s Network as one of the greatest speeches in cinema, but what are your favourites? Let me know by commenting below.