Romantic Person: Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights

Tomorrow the birds will sing.

The last few moments of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931) might be the most emotionally intricate movie scene, ever. Chaplin’s ‘Tramp’ character has just been released from prison after serving a sentence as a result of being falsely accused of stealing from a millionaire. We learn during the film that this millionaire actually gave the Tramp the money, but in classic Chaplin, a series of follies causes the drunken millionaire to forget their deal. The Tramp needed this money because he fell in love with a blind flower girl who is similarly underprivileged and cannot afford the cost of the surgery that could repair her eyesight. Although he has very little of his own, he vows to earn enough money for the girl to see again. He succeeds at getting the girl the money, just before being put into jail. During his jail time, the flower girl has gotten the surgery and opened her own flower shop with her grandmother, and the two are seen mulling over the identity of the man who gave her the money. They infer it must have been a wealthy benefactor, not occurring to them it might be someone far less adequate. The day that the Tramp is released from jail, he looks even more raggedy and downtrodden than in the beginning.  He walks by the girl’s flower shop, and the iconic scene occurs. The flower girl sees the Tramp for the first time and, naturally, he does not resemble the gentleman she had been imagining. However, she recognizes her benefactor by his quiet shyness and the touch of his hand.  The last few close-up cuts display the transformation of emotions in each their faces.

No matter how many times I view this scene I feel so overwhelmed by this pure and simple love, the recognition of truth, and reward of such selflessness. It makes your heart feel like it’s going to burst.




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