Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush takes a classical narrative approach, using a circular pattern. The circular pattern doesn’t just describe the movie as a whole, but also describes how Chaplin breaks down each scene into a circular sub-plot. Each scene has a cause and effect, or problem and resolution that reflect the general theme and meaning of the entire movie. A great example of this is Charlie’s scene in the dance hall for the first time. This scene serves as a mini overview of the movie and is a prophecy of the conclusion.
The avalanche that took care of Black Larson closes a chapter for the viewer and brings us into the new town. The new town gives a new location for something great to be found, such as that Alaska is the place to go to find gold. This plot shows the viewer that something is to be found in this new city (scene). Chaplin wastes no time in letting us know what the “gold” is in this town. Instead of a sentence or two giving a narrative of the scene, Chaplin cuts to just one word: the name “Georgia,” and then cuts back to an attractive woman. Obviously it tells the viewer that this person’s name is Georgia, but by giving us one word and merely showing the woman says that this woman speaks for herself and gives us a hint that this woman is what is to be sought after. Georgia is the “gold” of this town. Gold speaks for itself as well. No one needs to tell another what gold is as we all know what gold is and what it implies; it’s value, rarity, and beauty. The way that Chaplin introduces us to Georgia gives us that same implication, that she is rare and beautiful, and to be sought after. Her uniqueness is seen when several ladies jump into the carriage with “Jack the ladies’ man,” however Georgia declines his invitation and goes her own way. Georgia is different from other women, just as gold is different from other metals.
Chaplin gives us a new mise-en-scene when he approaches the dance hall by himself, bringing us back to the beginning of the movie when we are introduced to “the lone prospector” walking alone looking for gold. In the first part of the movie, however, Big Jim finds gold, but only to lose it temporarily. This time Charlie (the lone prospector) finds his gold, only to lose it (her) for a brief time. When the camera cuts into the dance hall, we are once again greeted by a narrative with only the name “Georgia” and just as the first time we are introduced to her, the camera shows the back of her head first and as she turns her head around towards the camera so we can see her face. Introducing Georgia like this gives us a “wow” factor about her. The viewers begin to realize that she is different and spectacular.
The lone prospector enters the dance hall and takes a look around. This cut is very significant and begins the circular pattern of this entire scene. Charlie walks in unnoticed and ignored, as if he didn’t exist. The camera then shoots a slightly low-angle shot of the entire dance hall with Charlie looking on at the people dancing, with his back to the camera. Chaplin keeps this shot for a long time; a shot that looks like the lone prospector is watching a movie. He is completely still looking at all these people dancing and moving around. Chaplin looks very small compared to everything else in the picture, even though he is the closest one to the camera. Again, it seems as though he doesn’t exist but is merely only a shadow or a ghost looking on. After this relatively long shot, we see a front view of the lone prospector as a tall gentleman walks in behind him. The camera then cuts to Georgia, (as in the same manner that she was introduced the first two times (only without the subtitle). In this scene, she turns her head around to face the camera; the camera being in the direction that the lone prospector and the tall man are standing. Georgia gives a big beautiful smile as the camera cuts back in the prospector’s direction, who thinks that she is smiling and coming over to him. He finds that he is mistaken when Georgia walks past him to the tall man, as if he wasn’t there and she didn’t even see him, however, the lone prospector has now found his gold.
The lone prospector is again ignored when Georgia talks to her friend and says she’s bored. She looks all the way around the hall, staring straight at the lone prospector, but looking though him like a window. Portraying the lone prospector as invisible to everyone, shows how small and unimportant a person he is at this time, as he’s a poor little tramp. The end of this act, however, will prove to be a type (comparison) of what will happen to this little tramp.
The lone prospector is finally noticed when Georgia asks him to dance in order to make “Jack (the ladies man)” jealous. By Georgia not giving in to Jack and Jack, who constantly pursues Georgia to not avail, shows how much Georgia is to be desired and how difficult she is to get, just like gold. After the dance, the lone prospector is hooked and even goes to the extent to protect his “precious find” when he prevents Jack from following Georgia after she tauntingly and sarcastically glances at him. The little tramp stands up to big Jack in order to protect his “gold” Georgia. After Jack taunts Charlie and pulls his hat over his eyes, Charlie punches around at nothing and hits a pole, in which a clock on the pole falls onto Jack’s head which knocks him out. The lone prospector is then seen as a hero and “all eyes” are on him as he walks tall out of the dance hall. This is a contrast to how the scene started when everybody ignored him as if he weren’t even there. Chaplin made the character look very small and worthless in the beginning of the act. At the end, he is seen as very tall and the center of attention as all the people make a path for him to walk down and stare at him only as he walks out. This is the culmination of this act and a pre-figurment of what is to come. The clumsy way in which the lone prospector knocks out Jack compliments how he will find real riches. Near the end of the movie, the cabin is blown to the spot where Big Jim’s stash is near.
The whole dance hall scene shows how a small, unknown, ignored tramp will become a rich, famous, multi millionaire by using creative filming techniques. Chaplin uses a circular pattern in this one act alone, which is a part of the larger circle of the whole film. The Gold Rush is a great example of how Chaplin uses the same type of pattern in smaller versions to make up a complete whole. The film is very symmetrical, not only as a whole, but in each individual scene. The dance hall scene is at the center of the film and serves as a little movie within a movie. The story and meaning of the film is portrayed through creative camera shots and cuts, yet it ties in with the movie as a whole.