Freud’s analysis of Charlie Chaplin in a letter to his friend

''In the last few days Charlie Chaplin has been in Vienna,'' Freud reported in a letter to a friend written in 1931.

Despite his general lack of interest in cinema and film Freud respects Chaplin as an artist and would have liked to have taken this opportunity to meet him. But no meeting took place.

"Charlie Chaplin has been in Vienna in the last few days, I almost saw him, but it was too cold for him and he left in a hurry. He is without doubt a great artist, though of course he always plays one and the same part, the weak, poor, helpless, clumsy young man for whom things turn out right in the end. Do you think he has to forget his own ego for this role? On the contrary, he only acts himself as he was in his bleak youth. He cannot escape from those impressions and even today he is compensating himself for the deprivations and discouragement of that period. He is, so to speak, a particularly simple and transparent case." [SF-Max Schiller 26.3.1931]

A copy of a 1931 letter from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud studying the basis of Chaplin’s screen persona as the Little Tramp:

Read Freud’s full analysis of Charlie Chaplin below:

Dear Doctor:

It is such a fascinating experience to have to justify my theories towards Mme. Yvette and Uncle Max. I only wish it were possible otherwise than in writing, in spite of my bad speech and my declining hearing. And I really have not the intention at all to give in to you beyond the confession that we know so little. You know for instance, in the last few days Charlie Chaplin has been in Vienna. Almost I, too, would have seen him, but it was too cold for him here and he left again quickly. He is undoubtedly, a great artist; certainly he always portrays one and the same figure; only the weakly, poor, helpless, clumsy youngster for whom, however, things turn out well in the end. Now do you think that for this role he has to forget his own ego? On the contrary, he always plays only himself as he was in his early dismal youth. He cannot get away from those impressions and to this day he obtains for himself the compensation for the frustrations and humiliations of that past period of his life. He is, so-to-speak, an exceptionally simple and transparent case. The idea that the achievements of artists are intimately bound up with their childhood memories, impressions, repressions and disappointments, has already brought us much enlightenment and has, for that reason, become very precious to us. I once dared to approach analytically one of the greatest of whom we unfortunately know very little: Leonardo da Vinci. I was at least able to make it probable that St. Anne, the Virgin and the Child, which you can visit in the Louvre, cannot be fully understood (comprehensible) without the remarkable childhood history of Leonardo. Nor could, possibly, much else.

But, you will say, Mme. Yvette has not only one role which she repeats. She plays with equal mastery all possible roles: saints and sinners, the coquette, the virtuous, criminals and naives. That is true and it is proof of an immensely rich and adaptable mental life. But I would not despair of tracing back to her experiences and conflicts of her young years the whole repertoire of her art. It would be tempting to continue here, but something holds me back. I know that unwished for analyses arouse misgivings and I do not wish to do anything which might disturb the cordial sympathy which makes up our relationship.

With friendship and greetings for you and Mme. Yvette,



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