The Transcendent Romance of City Lights (1931)

city lights

My fourth and final contribution to Wonders in the Dark’s romantic film countdown was posted earlier today. At #3, it’s Charlie Chaplin’s seminal masterwork City Lights (1931):

There are ostensibly two romances at work in City Lights–both of which admittedly play backseat to the comedic elements that dominate the majority of the film (the movie is not subtitled “A Comedy Romance in Pantomime” for nothing)–and neither exactly promises a happy ending for our two main characters. There is the adoration that the Tramp feels for the Flower Girl (Virginia Cherrill), defined by a sincere desire to help her in any way he can, be it taking an undesirable job or subjected himself to a boxing match in hopes of winning a big payday. The Tramp’s love for the Flower Girl is based in large part on his sympathy for her, for he cannot help but identify with her on some level; like him, she clings to the bottom rungs of a heartless society, subjected to the whims of a cruel fate, though her disability makes her far less resourceful than he at the mere act of survival. But even as he strives to find a way to get the money to restore her sight, he does so with the full knowledge that the cure will also mean the end of the budding relationship between them, and so there’s a decided heaviness that underlies the Tramp’s infatuation.

Then there is the hopeful reverence that the Flower Girl feels for her mysterious benefactor, who in her mind is a millionaire playboy–a savior, her white knight of olden times, riding upon his Rolls-Royce to save the day. That love is built largely on gratitude, but also on a sense of excitement and anticipation: will this man provide the ultimate escape from her dreary life? In the film’s final act, the Girl’s obvious longing for the return of her benefactor is both touching and sad, for we know that the inevitable revelation of the truth will not meet with her expectations. It’s one reason why the Tramp is so reluctant to interact with her in the end (though he ultimately cannot help himself), because he does not wish to puncture the fantasy.

Love, it seems, truly is blind.

To read the rest of this piece, head over to Wonders in the Dark! And many thanks to Sam Juliano and the wonderful (no pun intended) crew at WitD for hosting another stellar event, and for having me along. Contributing to Wonders’ genre countdowns is a genuine pleasure, and has become a highlight of my blogging year (so to speak).


Here are the links to my other contributions to the romance countdown:

5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

32. It Happened One Night (1934)

43. WALL-E (2008)

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