As I was watching The Kid, Charlie Chaplin’s first feature length film, I couldn’t help but realize the sheer magnitude of what I was viewing. As I watched the film via The Criterion Channel on my Apple TV in 2020 (try explaining that to Chaplin upon the original release of this film), it truly dawned on me that this film would be 100 years old next September. In the century that has passed since this film released, I couldn’t help but think of what a different world it was from then to now. Even so, it still feels oddly similar in many ways, and it seems like the answer to how that could be lies at the very heart of not just the film itself, but the character of the Tramp that Chaplin is perhaps most famous for.
To answer that question, we have to look at another one that came up as I was looking through Letterboxd for a side project I was working on. As I was scrolling through everything that I’ve logged over the few years I’ve used the app, I would occasionally say “Wow, I don’t remember seeing this whatsoever”. They were mainly films from 2017 to the present, and more often than not they were exclusively on streaming services. And they were so forgettable. And I don’t write this to knock any of those films per se. I believe that all art is important, and the very existence of it all proves that some humans have an innate need to share with the rest of the world; and that should be applauded above all. But with that being said, why is it that a film that’s nearly a century old can be more memorable and engrained in the minds of so many over something that is brand new in the grand scheme of things?
The Kid is many things in terms of the “film canon”. As stated, it was Chaplin’s first
feature length directorial effort. Aside from directing, he also wrote, starred, produced, edited
and composed the music in the 1972 rerelease. This would be a massive achievement today, so
one could imagine what it must have been like near the essential birthing of cinema as an
artform. But personally, it’s not even the technical achievements of this film or the boundaries
it broke through at the time that make it so impressive.
At its core, the theme of this film is what humanity needs. It showcases the importance of love, but larger than that, the importance of sharing a bond. This bond may not be one of blood, but it should be treasured nonetheless. The Tramp is passive in many instances. He is affected by the world moving around him, whether that’s him being underneath a heap of garbage being tossed from a window, or an older brother looking for vindication on his younger brother being beaten up. Yet when the boy he has raised for five years is being taken away, he fights. The character that many know and love takes on a new persona, that of a father fighting for his son. It’s an out of character moment, yet in the scene it feels so justified and heartbreaking that it makes complete and total sense. This film can turn your smile into tears at the drop of a dime, as it lets us know in the beginning. As the Tramp runs from the police across rooftops, he risks his life for this boy. Chaplin’s character will do whatever it takes to get his son back, and this is surely a trait that all its viewers can relate to in some shape or form. Because the power of love isn’t something that has waned over the course of history. If anything, the necessity for it has only grown. In a time where people can’t leave their homes or see friends and family, it’s the love we have for one another that holds us tighter together. Charlie Chaplin and his films have lived for 100 years, and they will surely live for hundreds more.