The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin’s satire of Nazi Germany. The film opens in the midst of war. A bumbling Jewish barber turned solider is following orders and taking the war one step at a time. He runs across a wounded solider and goes on to save his life, despite the amnesia it gives him. The war ends with the barber on the losing side and stuck in an institution nursing his mental injuries. During this time, a new dictator named Hynkel grows in power in his country of Tomania with powerful speeches and promises that install a newfound hope in the withering country. His biggest platform is his outrage with the Jewish population and the need for their riddance from the world. The Jewish barber regains his state of mind around the same time Hynkel’s army begins ravishing the Jewish masses including the barber’s own ghetto he lives in. Before he is arrested one of the commanders of Hynkel’s army steps in and recognizes him as the man that saved his life during the war. He releases him and everything seems to be working out for the barber for a while. He meets a strong willed woman and they begin a relationship. Hynkel continues to grow in power and madness. He commands his troops to throw the Jewish into concentration camps and to invade neighboring countries. It becomes apparent how heartless and unjustified his policies are in his maniacal conquest of the world. Hynkel becomes aware of his commanding officer’s Jewish sympathies and demands he and the Jewish barber are thrown into a concentration camp. As they toil in the camp, the rest of the Jewish barber’s community and significant other escape to the freedom of another country called Ostrich. Little do they know that Hynkel and a fellow dictator are fighting over the right to invade Ostrich as they leave. The ex-officer and Jewish barber manage to escape from the camp and in their run to freedom they are forced to portray Tomanian soldiers. In a turn of events the barber is mistaken for dictator Hynkel and is told to give a speech promoting their dissent on Ostrich. He pours his heart into the speech is forced to give to the Tomanian soldiers. The barber installs a new sense of hope as he relates his belief in peace to the people and relays his message throughout the world.
This clever story is a look at what could have happened from Chaplin’s point of view. He is blatantly mocking Hitler’s policies and ideas without any attempt at concealing his ideas. The outrage he feels for the ostracized people is poured into the script with poignant dialogue and outlandish mimics of Hitler and his close advisors. He portrays the dictator as a crazy, selfish, and child-like man who’s obsessed with power and self-promotion. Chaplin is also in the role as the Jewish barber, a humble, sweet man only trying to live in this world where he stripped of his rights. Both characters are exaggerations of the situation he is commenting on and he does a great job and humanizing the victims and de humanizing the aristocratic ruling party. The film is a dramatic step up from his previous works, ye still is infused with his running gags and Tramp-like character. After seeing this movie it’s unclear how anyone can take a stance with Hitler’s policies and commands. In a larger context, how can anyone take away freedom from another human being?