A lone prospector ventures into Alaska looking for gold. He gets mixed up with some burly characters and falls in love with the beautiful Georgia. He tries to win her heart with his singular charm. Written by
John J. Magee <email@example.com>
At the time of filming, Charles Chaplin and Georgia Hale were having an affair, so that when their finale's lingering kiss was filmed, it was (according to Hale in Unknown Chaplin ) "not acting". By the time the movie was re-issued in 1942, Chaplin was long done with Hale, and he trimmed their final scene to exclude the long kiss. See more »
In the 1942 sound version, Tom Murray's character is spelled Black Larsen on the "Wanted" ad, but Black Larson in the end credits. See more »
To be perfectly honest, I wish I could denounce Chaplin more fervently than I find myself able to. Right down to my fundamental worldview, I am a Buster Keaton person, the face a mask that stoically accepts the door slamming shut; so I find it beyond irksome and trite every time the tramp is by some miraculous chain of events restored into happiness. The world as I understand it just doesn't work this way; kings and beggars alike have the same toll to pay. So wishing it did only fosters more pain.
This is actually worst than The Kid in this respect. Our lowly hero eventually gets the dream girl, but only after he has allowed himself to be dragged in pursuit of gold. Oh, though filthy rich at that point, when in the end he falls practically in the girl's arms he is again dressed like a tramp - meaning, no doubt, he is still the same person - but where usually the hero sacrifices superficial, worldly pleasures for the deeper calling that fulfills the soul, here he gets both. There is not even the thought of a compromise.
Yet I can't help but connect here with one specific aspect of Chaplin's cosmology; the mysterious, elusive fates - seemingly random, but slowly revealed to be guiding purpose - that govern life and toss it about through so many clashing rocks.
Nowhere is this sketched more poignantly than in the famous cliffhanger scene. The tramp wakes in the same cabin he was earlier; familiar surroundings from inside, the reality thought to be known, understood, domesticated into order, but from outside we see how this reality hangs in precarious balance above the void. So, every step inside, taken casually, without much thought, is revealed from outside to have terrifying consequences that govern life and death. 'Blissful ignorance', the intertitle aptly describes the situation inside the cabin.
It is a powerful cosmologic symbol, what in Eastern philosophy is understood as karma, fate flowing not from some lofty precipice of the gods above but from inside the house of everyday life. With both gold and love, impossible love with the dream girl, as the chimeras that trick the mind.
So Chaplin is gifted enough to see the world as it manifests itself to us on some fundamental level, as in the dream sequence in The Kid where we see the devil tricking the soul from inside, but either cannot properly understand and confuses karma for providential fate - or he does, is terrified, and chooses to soothe us instead with a fairy- tale.
So however well-meant, it's a dishonest, patronizing vision of bliss. Once more these forces are finally shown to be the challenging, but eventually benevolent whims of providence. It's all made right again, more than right.
Notice how well integrated is this notion inside the film, proof that all else aside Chaplin was a talented film mind; we are so closely made to identify with the point-of-view of the tramp, who is kept in blissful ignorance of the larger soul-defining mechanisms that shape his life, that we come out of the film from our position as viewers buying this fantasy as an important lesson.
So instead of coming out of the film realizing that we should seize control of our own footsteps in life that keep our world in balance, or assume responsibility for when it trickles down the hill, just wait and it'll all work out in the end. It is a clever manipulation into blissful ignorance, with the filmmaker playing our strings the same way invisible fates play with the character inside the film.
Sure, it is occasionally very funny, inventive. But we're talking here about the more intricate mechanisms that drive a film - and, film aspiring to be a truthful reflection of life, life itself.
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