What can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said? It may not be as well structured of a film as “The Gold Rush” or as intellectually stimulating as “Monsieur Verdoux” but there’s no question that it’s Chaplin’s most beautiful and joyous feature. Chaplin had just been through a painful divorce, as well as the death of his mother. The film he would make immediatly after those events would be almost a return to the anarchic Chaplin of old, though with the maturity of the features he had been making for the last 10 years. The Tramp is no longer a figure of pity, as he was in The Gold Rush.
Chaplin begins his film again by attacking proprietary. As they city mayor speaks, Chaplin stuffs a bunch of kazoo like sounds in his mouth, lampooning the kind of things that we hear from these kind of people. A statue entitled “Peace and Prosperity” is then unvieled. Chaplin goes on to take the sword of “peace” up his ass. He then manages to thumb his nose at the police, and the whole public, via the hand of “prosperity”.
Soon we are introduced to the flower girl. Chaplin’s aesthetic qualities as a director are frequently passed over; however look as his shot selection here. He first shows us an image of a flower, quite alone in it’s loveliness. The shot is then dissolved into a close up of Virginia Cherrill, the flower girl. Immediatly we feel the reverence and love that Chaplin, and his audience, will feel for this character. We then dissolve into a medium shot of the flower girl. Now we have a sense of time and place, but additionally a sense of this character. We can now return to the story, as we know all there is needed to know about the flower girl.
Now we return to reality, the reality that the flower girl is blind too. Chaplin enters her world through a car, a representation of the real world that the flower girl is not yet a part of. Then they meet. The moment of the Tramp and the Flower Girl’s first meeting is exquisitely beautiful. Nothing exists between the two of them. Chaplin only sees her beauty, and the flower girl only sees the man who has picked up the flower for her. When suddenly the flower girl is in danger of discovering the real world, Chaplin must hide it. A man enters the car that Chaplin has hopped through. The flower girl hears the sound of the door closing and thinks Chaplin has left. Chaplin pretends that he actually has left, as he has also come through that door, and knows the truth of the world. However, the Tramp is taken by her innocence, her privilege of blindness to the world. He keeps her flower, a last glimmer of hope in the dim city.
Like “The Gold Rush”, the dreamworld is at the forefront. This time, however, Charlie is much too aware of it. Blindness has saved the flower girl from existing in the real city, which the tramp exists in. Later we meet the millionare, another victim of the city, as he tries to kill himself in a drunken stupor. Chaplin, who happens to be sitting on a bench during this incident, saves his life. As they leave to go home, Chaplin takes the flower that he has bought from the flower girl with him, as he has left it on a bench. He can’t leave without it.
As we enter the millionare’s home, the feel of Chaplin’s music suddenly alters to one that sounds like we’ve entered a place of mourning. His home is another victim of the city’s ruthlessness. The butler informs the millionare that his wife has sent for her bags. The millionare later throws his wife’s photograph across the room. Once again, thoughout the sequences set in the millionare’s home, we return to the anarchic Chaplin of old. The butler motions for Chaplin’s hat and cane. Chaplin proceeds to shake the butler’s hand. He will then sit on the couch with his wet, dirty clothes. The tramp doesn’t know this strange world of the rich, where others take your things for you. That world is absurd.
Continuing on, the millionare takes Charlie for a night on the town. They go to a nightclub, where some rediculously hilarious incidents take place. The scenes with the millionare and the tramp are meant to counterpoint the story of the Tramp and the Flower Girl. We see the absurdity of this world, it’s speediness and abruptness. We long for the world of the flower girl, one that is reflective and beautiful.
We go on and discover that this is a very simple film, one where all the comic events are meant to augment the story of the Tramp and the flower girl. It is truely a “comedy romance in pantomime.” In a fantastic juxtoposition later, Chaplin cuts from the lovely comic scene of the flower girl spinning the yarn from his trousers to a shot of the Grandmother, desparately trying to sell flowers in the flower girls place, and failing. Chaplin will do everything in his power to help the flower girl, he loves her so. She’s the only thing left in the city worth living for. She’s the only person who will see him for who he really is, precisily because she cannot see.
In his quest to help the flower girl, Chaplin will restore her sight, to his own detriment. In his love, Chaplin will be forced to make a sacrifice for a disparate world.
And what of our own perceptions of reality? The flower girl will own a flower shop, her sight restored. She waits everyday, hoping that one day the man she had dreamt of will one day walk into her shop. In the meantime, Chaplin returns to the heartless city, poorer and more ragged than ever. He becomes the messiah. He stops to pick up a flower that lies in the gutter, only to be rediculed moments later.
Then we go to the famous final moments of the picture. Suddenly, the flower girl’s dreams of fortune are shattered. It is conveyed by touch, not image, something the cinema cannot yet convey. Yet her, and our dreams of a kinder world are suddenly torn apart. And what of cinema, our perception of cinema? Is it escapism, is it reality, or is it a mirror of reality? And what happens when escapism suddenly meets reality?