Admiration is a sentiment fuelling our sense of belonging and our yearning inner ego. We have all, potentially with regret, completed some task to gain esteem with our peers. However, some actions are propelled by kindness, optimism, good will, and duty towards our fellow human beings. The 1952 drama “Limelight” directed by the legendary Charlie Chaplin masterfully blends these motivations to demonstrate the complexities of this decision-making. Chaplin always effortlessly combined pathos with humour in each of his films, but the former is heightened throughout this tale of which many succumb.
Calvero (Chaplin) is a washed-up clown living in a subpar apartment in pre-WWI London. Upon climbing the staircase in his apartment building one day like any other, he smells gasoline exiting the apartment of struggling ballet dancer Thereza Ambrose (Claire Bloom). She has attempted suicide secondary to her own daily struggles in her career and personal life. Calvero rescues her, secretly improving her health physically and intellectually while harbouring her from the implausible law that suicide was illegal. They develop deep mutual respect and affection for one another, encouraging one another to pursue their greatest yet seemingly unachievable ambitions. Their relationship takes a multitude of twists and turns, culminating in a final act featuring simultaneous joy, lament, tragedy, and guilt. It should be mentioned that Chaplin’s colleague and comedic competitor Buster Keaton has an important cameo, conveying offscreen and onscreen mutual respect for each others’ crafts.
The main characters of this film live and breathe in a co-existing world where an audience of strangers cement their identities. The stamina needed to perform daily for a living is quite exhilarating but also exhausting, demonstrated through Thereza’s gift as a ballerina and Calvero’s talent as a comedian. However, their vulnerabilities under duress in the enduring yet failing promises of the “limelight” emerge. Chaplin’s swan song mirrors his own journey, as the audience and studios who once highly loved and respect his achievements banished him. This film thus serves as a caution to those who seek approval from others to enhance their self worth. Self-actualization can only come from one’s inner desires, beliefs, and the strong, bona fide connections that they forge with others.
I do not own this photo. As well, this blog post is part of the En Pointe: The Ballet Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Love Letters to Old Hollywood! Please check out all of the other great entries dedicated to films with ballet 🙂
I also want to thank everyone who follows and reads my blog for their patience. I have had a big life transition this past month moving and starting a new job. It really broke my heart that I could not blog as much, but I want to get back on the bandwagon again! I hope I haven’t lost my touch 🙂