Only a short part of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush is set at New Year’s Eve, but the whole movie is about the need, the attempt, and the chance for a new start. “Auld Lang Syne” is played twice in the movie, obviously at midnight at the start of New Year’s Day but also at the last scene of the movie, recalling that what happened on New Year’s was that chance for a new start that has now been complete.
Chaplin’s movies always find a very fine line between comedy and tragedy and are often filled with the darkest of themes that only a true master could work with honestly and still be true to his great gift for physical comedy. In 1936, he made a shockingly inspiring and hilarious story centered around homeless people during the Great Depression, Modern Times. In 1940, he made his funniest film which far more shockingly was set in Nazi Germany, The Great Dictator.
This film, is no exception. In the Klondike, the Tramp is a prospector existing in a world that cares only about survival. His only friend is so starved that he becomes tempted towards cannibalism and tries to kill the Tramp on several occasions. Every attempt the Tramp makes to keep himself and his friend safe is met with great opposition showing just how desperate and how dangerous this lifestyle is. Of course, it’s a Chaplin movie so every danger, every situation that threatens and scares the Tramp finds its own special way to make the audience laugh because of all the brilliant ways Chaplin uses his body to make something funny out of something in that in reality is grim and even terrifying.
Just before New Year’s Eve, the Tramp meets Georgia who pays attention to him only to ward off the unwanted advances of another man. She and her friends soon see that they can take advantage of his quirks and the way he is smitten with her for their own selfish entertainment. He invites them all over to his shack for New Year’s Eve where he performs his famous dance with dinner rolls. This scene is sheer delight, being the only way he has (without money, intelligence, or anything else to give) to show his affection for her. He believes that if he makes her laugh, she will continue to pay attention to her. He’s right, but not in the way he wants to be. By the beginning of New Year’s Day, he knows that Georgia has just been playing mean games with him, but that doesn’t stop him from being in love with her.
Once the Tramp knows the truth, New Year’s Day becomes an opportunity for him to have the new start he has needed all along. It takes the rest of the movie to see the benefits of that, but that’s why we hear “Auld Lang Syne” once again at the end of the film. That’s why there’s no movie I can think of to better recommend for watching on New Year’s Eve than The Gold Rush.
Also Directed by Charles Chaplin:
The Great Dictator (1940)
Modern Times (1936)