Gilman, Sander. "Is Life Beautiful? Can the Shoah Be Funny? Some Thoughts on Recent and Older Films". Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26 No. 2. (Winter, 2000): 279-30.
There has been a good deal of debate regarding how filmmakers and other artists should represent the Shoah (Holocaust). In this article, Sander Gilman discusses how the Shoah has been represented in the arts, focusing on comedy and film. Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” uses comedy to attack the Third Reich and to represent the beginnings of the Shoah. Gilman asks whether the terror during of the Shoah and the Nazi regime can be understood through such comedy. “The Great Dictator” was one of the first comic films to deal with the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews. While the film touches on the initial stages of the Shoah, it was made before the real horror and genocide began; the satire’s main target is the Nazi Regime. Gilman asserts that laughter is appropriate in films like “The Great Dictator” that deal with the Nazi regime as the enemy, leaving out the horrors of the Holocaust. In effect, this targeted treatment of the regime assures the viewer that they are stronger than the Nazis.
This article agrees with the thesis as it argues that the use of comedy in “The Great Dictator” effectively undermines the Nazi regime. More than that, Gilman addresses one of the principal criticisms of the film, namely the incompatibility of laughter and the events of the Holocaust. Critics often claim that the use of comedy in the film lessens the horrors that took place. Viewing “The Great Dictator” today may give us this impression. However, as Gilman discusses, Chaplin was ignorant of the extent of Nazi terror simply because the film was produced pre-Shoah. Indeed, post World War II, Chaplin asserted that “had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator; I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis.” In the historical context of the film’s production, the film accurately and effectively utilizes laughter to challenge the Third Reich.