Alphabetical Movie – The Great Dictator
Those keeping track at home will note that I actually watched The Great Dictator after watching The Great Escape and alphabetically speaking, that is all wrong.
It is true. All I can say is that I had acquired The Great Dictator a few months ago and forgotten to put it on the list of upcoming films. Fortunately for me, my rigid Alphabetical movie project rules allow me to deal with such errors by simply watching the damn movie slightly out-of-order.
The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin’s attempt to say “am I the only person who sees what’s going on here?????” in a way that only he could. He spent two years making the movie and it is obviously a deeply personal film. It is a comedy, yes, and frequently funnier than anything else he ever made.
But you can see him goading his audience to pay attention to the evil that the Nazis represented.
In reading about the film, Chaplain later felt that he would not have been able to make the movie had he known the full extent of Hitlers atrocities. While I understand the sentiment, I think it would have been a shame.
Here’s where we get into my own personal theories about comedy and how I view what I do as a comedian. Believe me, it relates back to this film.
There are things in this world that are so horrifying, I believe the only way to truly process them is to make a joke out of it. The atrocities of the Nazis defy understanding. How could anyone think what they were doing was OK? How could so many people do such horrible things?
You can understand the psychology of it and it still doesn’t make sense.
Different people process this kind of information in different ways. I process it by making jokes about it.
When my dad died, I was nineteen years old. It was completely unexpected and about as emotionally crushing as anything I’ve ever experienced.
I was making tasteless jokes about it the same day.
Was it disrespectful of his memory? No! It was the way I was processing my own grief.
If I make a joke about a terrible event, it helps me come to terms with it.
Now that doesn’t mean that the same thing works for all people. I simply will never judge someone for making an “inappropriate” joke “too soon.”
So when Chaplain said that he could not have made fun of Hitler had he known how monstrous the man really was I say, why not? I think that the more he made fun of Hitler the better.
You don’t erase the evil the man did by laughing at him. You give yourself some release from those horrible deeds.
It helps people get past the initial horror and get on with living. As popular as The Great Dictator was when first released, it resonates more today because you see Chaplain turning Hitler into a buffoon and at the same time hinting to the sinister edge just beneath the surface.
Did he go easy on Hitler? His Jewish barber character was nearly lynched at one point. While Chaplain may not have grasped the full extent of Hitler’s goals, he certainly understood well enough that if you were a Jew in Germany, your life was not worth a great deal.
Making fun of Hitler doesn’t diminish what he did. It doesn’t make us forget what he did. Truly, there are a lot more people who have heard of Hitler than there are who have heard of Chaplin (which is a pity).
It does, as I’ve said, help us process what he did. Otherwise we’d get buried under the weight of it all.
You absolutely can laugh in the face of darkness. I think that was what Chaplain showed us in this film. Even if at the time, he was one of comparatively few people who recognized the darkness.