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Quotes / The Great Dictator

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In her post about the profusion of “Downfall” parodies that turn up on YouTube, my colleague Amy Davidson asks, "Can Hitler be a proper object of humor?" I’d say that the evidence suggests a slightly different question: Can fictional representations of Hitler be anything but funny? The parodies have proliferated precisely because the footage they’re based on is already unintentionally ridiculous ... So it’s not all Hitler’s fault that he’s become a regular riot.

But there’s a still more important reason for the silliness that’s inherent in the parodies. It is, of course, what Charlie Chaplin got at in 1940, in his performance as Adenoid Hynkel in “The Great Dictator” and what Ernst Lubitsch made clear in "To Be or Not to Be" from 1942, which opens with a scene involving a Hitler impersonator. What’s most important about Hitler is the fact that he is, in fact, ridiculous—and that people nonetheless adulated him as a political leader. In Chaplin’s film, Hynkel is a joke, but there’s nothing funny about the anti-Jewish pogroms he instigates; in Lubitsch’s film, the comedy is darkened by the threat of death. The real story, and the real horror, starts with the people who voted Hitler in, who carried out his program, who welcomed his troops and collaborated with his agents ...

The representation of Hitler was, already in 1940, the face of a horror that defied representation and therefore, like images of the devil or of vampires, became instant camp.

Richard Brody, Heil, Hynkel

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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 is 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 17th Chapter of St 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 youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil 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!

Chaplin
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