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Depictions of Class in Films

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2339 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Discuss how class is depicted in The Crime of Mr Lange and Modern Times, and to what effects and purposes. Pay attention to film form as well as character and narrative in your answer, and provide precise examples. You may wish to focus on particular sequences.

Jean Renoir’s movie, The Crime of Mr Lange is a powerful socio-political critique that serves to entertain the audience. The film highlighted the extreme levels of exploitation in society and the reaction of workers (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2005). Amadee Lange serves as the central character in the film and characterised as being naïve and a regular daydreamer. However, he is the author of a series of stories titled “Arizona Jim”. Throughout the film, it is explicit that the publisher of Lange’s work exploits him and takes advantage of his naivety. On the other hand, Charles Chaplin’s movie titled Modern Times is a social commentary that demonstrates the adverse effect of a capitalist society (Nava and O’Shea, 1996). The main character, Charlie, is a labourer in a factory that exploits workers. Through his determination to survive, Charlie helps in demonstrating the disadvantages of labourers in a capitalist system. Both movies depict the manner in which the class system exhibits a conflict. A critical analysis of the two movies reveals that class issues are at the centre of the social commentaries, as this paper will demonstrate.

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The Crime of Mr Lange is a movie that provides the justification of Mr Lange’s crime using political justifications. However, the movie depicts the effect of a class system on society. Mr Lange is an author with a series of stories published, but he is yet to bring him any benefits. The publisher of the series represents the rich capitalists who seek to exploit the working class. As a publisher, Batala has access to resources that he uses to promote his publishing business. It is unfortunate that he opts to exploit and swindle the authors who use his publishing services. For example, Batala uses the work of Lange to earn himself an illegal income. He also manipulates Lange’s work to foster his interests. Lange eventually recognises that Batala has been exploiting him and formed a workers’ cooperative with the employees of the publishing company. These events demonstrate an evident class struggle between the working class and the capitalists (Nevin, 2016). Karl Marx extensively discussed the adverse effects of the class system paying  attention to the exploitation of the workers by their employers, who are majorly capitalists (Davis, 2012). In this movie, Batala serves as the selfish capitalist who only embarks on exploiting the workers and authors. Batala used different strategies to exploit his creditors while keeping the returns for himself. Lange represents the working class group that continuously seeks to overcome exploitation. Lange’s efforts to form a cooperative with the employees of the publishing company represents a move by the workers to stage a revolution against Batala.

It is explicit that the revolution of the workers is sufficient to attract the attention of the capitalists. The workers’ revolution demonstrates that the working class cannot tolerate exploitation for too long. The workers must eventually recognise their rights and demand better treatment. The concepts of the class system depicted in Jean Renoir’s movie helps in appreciating the philosophy of Karl Marx (Davis, 2012). Specifically, Batala’s actions serve to alienate Lange from his work. He is unable to earn returns from his work and Batala has made some changes to his original work. For this reason, Batala is a ruthless capitalist that takes advantage of his employees as well as authors such as Lange. It is clear that the concept of alienation is evident throughout the film. As Lange pursues Batala, it is clear that the working class has taken measures to pursue their rights relentlessly. The manner in which Batala’s publishing company operates is similar to the operations of an industrial setting. Lange must take action to redeem his written works and protect his job.

Jean Renoir succeeded in providing a class critique that demonstrates the manner in which an emerging class conflict adversely affects the working class. Jean Renoir demonstrates how the upper class comprising of people such as Batala take advantage of the lower class. The class system in this movie is facing a critical conflict that is likely to trigger a revolution (Davis, 2012). Notably, Jean Renoir pays more attention to Batala’s description with the core objective of demonstrating how the upper class of the society were extremely exploitative and with the determination to increase profits. Batala does not pay attention to the needs of his employees or the needs of Lange. On the contrary, Batala used Lange’s work to earn an increasing level of popularity. It is evident that Jean Renoir presented this critique of the social classes subtly. Despite the subtle approach, the class interactions and their adverse effects emerge in the movie (Nevin, 2016). Lange eventually kills Batala, and his action is justified on both political and social grounds. Batala had been a ruthless publisher belonging to the upper class and with a disregard for the lower class. Batala chooses to take advantage of the lower class as he accumulated profits for himself. These class struggles are typical of the society that Karl Marx described in his philosophy.

On the other hand, Chaplin’s Modern Times presents the complex interactions in the industrial capitalist society. The movie serves as a social commentary that depicts the high levels of alienation that is typical of the capitalist society (Nevin, 2016). Chaplin was able to depict a clear representation of the industrial practices and extreme exploitation of workers in different companies. Charlie had been working in a factory that promoted the alienation of workers from their labour or product. Specifically, Charlies works in a highly industrialised factory that has adopted numerous machines that increase the efficiency levels. According to Karl Marx, alienation involves a measure of separation between an individual’s work and his rewards (Nava and O’Shea, 1996). Charlie has been working in a factory that has adopted machination to promote mass production. The factory life is extremely boring because the workers work in a solitary environment without any social interactions. Charlie is an example of a worker who has been at the centre of the unfair capitalist system. The working class engages in many hours of labour to benefit the capitalist class that seeks fame and maximised profits.

In the movie, Charlie’s factory introduced a feeding machine that would satisfy the needs of the employees as they continued to work. The purpose of such a machine was to ensure that the workers would no longer need the lunch break. Notably, the lunch break was a quality tie for the workers because they were able to socialise and interact positively. However, the company hoped that regaining the lunch hour by providing feeding machines was a form of alienation. The workers would constantly be serving more hours while the capitalists sought to exploit them. In Modern Times, the factory owners signified the high levels of exploitation and alienation with which workers must deal. For Charlie, he was alienated from his work because he would never access the products of his labour. He worked on items that he never enjoyed the satisfaction of the finished products. The finished product belonged to the factory owners. For this reason, Charlie witnessed the alienation between him and his labour on a daily basis. He had no control over the process of production. He received specific instructions from the manager and had to abide by them at all times. Moreover, the alienation separated Charlie from himself because he could no longer demonstrate an attachment to his abilities as a producer. These aspects of alienation support the theory of Karl Marx that explains how the class struggles in a capitalist society emerge (Nava and O’Shea, 1996).

Additionally, the factory owners alienated the employees from their colleagues. The elimination of the lunch hour had a negative impact on the employees. They would no longer be able to socialise without limitations from their employer. The lack of interactions at the workplace demonstrates a form of alienation that Karl Marx described. It is explicit that Charlie was at the centre of a non-functional capitalist system that continued to exploit workers at different levels (Nava and O’Shea, 1996). The level of exploitation became unbearable for Charlie when he recognised that prison cells could provide him with a better environment. He wished he returned to jail than to wake up and report at the factory. A jail represents a place where prisoners do not experience any sense of freedom. When Charlie explains that he prefers the jail to his job at the factory, he implies that the working environment only serves to exploit him. The unfair system with serious class struggles cannot meet the needs of the employees (Greene, 2010). Many of the employees opt to put up with the unfair system. The upper class of the society demonstrates a lack of concern for the needs of the workers.

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Both Modern Times and The Crime of Mr Lange are movies that provide a class critique. As highlighted above, the two movies demonstrate the class conflict between the upper class comprising capitalists and the lower class comprising the struggling working class (Greene, 2010). The upper class takes advantage of the working class as is expected in a capitalist society. For Lange, Batala serves as the representation of greedy capitalists while Lange is one of the victims of exploitation. Similarly, Charlie is a victim of exploitation in Chaplin’s movie. It is clear that the working class has limited choices because of the alienation from the meaning of their work. The lack of social interaction is an additional aspect that fosters alienation (Nava and O’Shea, 1996). Both movies help in developing a better appreciation of the class struggles in a capitalist system. In each of the movies, there is evidence that the capitalist society engages in profit maximisation at the expense of the workers. The compensation is minimal, and the capitalists enjoy the highest percentage of the rewards from the labour process. It is apparent that Chaplin adopts a more direct approach in his social critique. Chaplin uses a straightforward approach to demonstrate how the capitalist society exploits workers without a second thought.

The excessive alienation that Chaplin portrayed sought to reveal the evils of the capitalist society. On the other hand, Jean Renoir made use of a subtle approach of demonstrating the class struggles. Jean Renoir made use of realism in his efforts to demonstrate the emerging conflict between workers and the capitalists. Jean Renoir adopted the concept of realism to depict how workers can establish a collective that helps to overcome the oppression from the capitalists. An additional difference is that Jean Renoir’s movie foregrounds the revolution of the workers as a sign that they were willing to take back their rights and stand up against the capitalist system. The revolution of workers is one of the important aspects that Karl Marx described in his philosophy. Specifically, the revolution of the workers occurs after many years of exploitation (Greene, 2010). The revolution is the way in which the workers make it clear that they can no longer embrace more exploitation. The uprising of the workers seeks to restore their attachment to the work or labour process. Jean Renoir demonstrates how the employees of Batala worked alongside Lange in the revolution that led to the formation of a new approach.

Both Modern Times and The Crime of Mr Lange are films that demonstrate the class interactions in a capitalist society. From the actions taken by Mr Lange and the employees of the publishing company, it is clear that they needed freedom from exploitation. Such exploitation forms the centre of the theory presented by Karl Marx concerning the capitalist society. On the other hand, Modern Times used the example of Charlie to demonstrate how an industrialised capitalist alienates workers from their labour and product. The system also hinders reproductive social interactions, and the class struggles have been evident in different works as portrayed in the two movies. Chaplin succeeded in providing a compelling illustration of how the capitalist system exploits workers while the capitalists continue to maximise their profits. It is clear that both directors provided a critique of the capitalist system and the class struggles.


  • Davis, C. (2012) Postwar Renoir : film and the memory of violence. Routledge.
  • Greene, D. (2010) The American worker on film : a critical history, 1909-1999. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., Publishers.
  • Nava, M. and O’Shea, A. (1996) Modern times : reflections on a century of English modernity. Routledge.
  • Nevin, B. (2016) ‘“What we have done is shameful”: interrogating the relationship between France and its Algérie in Jean Renoir’s Le Bled (1929)’, Studies in French Cinema. Routledge, 16(1), pp. 1–18. doi: 10.1080/14715880.2016.1138722.
  • Pramaggiore, M. and Wallis, T. (2005) Film : a critical introduction. London: Laurence King..


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