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The Great Dictator Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 10+

Comic genius blitzkriegs the Third Reich.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there is a depiction of fascist thuggery, concentration camps, and violence directed against the "non-Aryans" (Jews, primarily; no specific mention of gypsies, Catholics, Poles, Slavs, etc.) of Europe. Chaplin's approach is way milder than the Schindler's List horrors and newsreel footage of corpse-piles that were to confront shocked moviegoers in later years. Some viewers might think it's even too mild, though that's an unfair burden to put on this film.

  • Families can talk about the rise of the Third Reich and Mussolini's Italy, and how Charlie Chaplin skillfully turned some of the most frightening real-life villains into buffoons. You could research the other sorts of movies coming out at the time, from Axis Germany, Italy, Japan, and the USSR -- and how they served their own "great dictators'" aims. While some movies from Nazi Berlin certainly did glorify fascism (check out Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, if you dare), others were deliberately non-political, meant to take the average citizen's mind off war. Ask kids if they think Chaplin's pointed comedy holds up well today, or is a WWII relic. Who are today's "great dictators"? And who are the comedians today that make them into buffoons?

The good stuff
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    Messages: No question who the good guys and the bad guys are, even with Chaplin in dual roles as the egomaniacal dictator Hynkel and the Jewish barber/war veteran. The attitude flirts with humanism -- the heroine posits that if God doesn't really exist, people should still be nice to one another as if He did. In a final speech, practically presidential-candidate in intensity, the barber quotes the Bible and calls for freedom, equality, compassion, and unity of all races, and there's little doubt this isn't the character but instead Chaplin himself speaking his mind.

What to watch for
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    Violence: Battlefield slapstick with explosions, giant cannons, and mortar shells for comic effect. Men shot at close range. Jews tormented with beatings, thrown vegetables, and an attempted hanging. Distant views of a ghetto on fire.

  • sex false0

    Sex: Nothing shown, but secretaries swoon for dictator Hynkel, who smooches them flagrantly.

  • language false0

    Language: Not an issue

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Social drinking and smoking.