Look up, Hannah. Look up.

Chaplin in The Great Dictator - Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
The screen legend in his first talkie – The Great Dictator.

In the movie The Great Dictator – Charlie Chaplin’s first ‘talkie’ (i.e. with spoken dialogue) – Chaplin played dual-roles in a story that is considered one of the very few American films then to criticise the war in Europe. During filming, the USA were yet to be bombed by the Japanese in Pearl Harbour, so they were not yet keen to participate in the fighting.

I consider this film my absolute favourite Chaplin movie. Even though some of his other, earlier movies may have been far funnier, with a greater emphasis on the well-worn formula of slapstick plus underdog-conquers-all schtick, this movie though showed me that Chaplin was more than just a great comedian and damn fine actor – he was also a master storyteller.

As a child, this movie served as my first exposure to World War 2. While obviously the attraction of the movie then stemmed from the comedy genius of Charlie Chaplin, this speech at the end of the film has always stayed with me for years – and yet, I’ve never realised how poignant this speech really is – until today.

Without giving away the storyline, let me just say that at the end of the movie, Chaplin’s character – a Jewish barber – finds himself in a position to speak to millions listening round the world, among whom is his love interest, a young Jewish woman named Hannah who is trying to escape the horrors of the impending Holocaust.

This is his speech. I recommend you go to American Rhetoric and download either the video or mp3 of the speech – it brought back so much memories for me, let me tell ya..

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an Emperor – that’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible — Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another; human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful.

But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me I say, “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators die; and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel; who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate; only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, “the kingdom of God is within man” — not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite!! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people!! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise!! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!!!

Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality.

Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow — into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up.

Speech from the movie The Great Dictator. Text and picture sourced from American Rhetoric. You can also download the video and mp3 of this speech there.

It never ceases to amaze me how, despite everything we know about our past, the world continues to insist on repeating our mistakes.


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