One of the most popular videos on the Internet at present is a video titled “Chaplin’s Time Traveler,” uploaded to YouTube by Irish independent film producer George Clarke (“Battle of the Bone”) that seems to show — in about six seconds worth of out-takes from Charlie Chaplin’s movie “The Circus” — an old woman talking into something held in her hand that appears to be a cell phone. It has caused great debate in the blogosphere about time travel itself and speculation as to what the woman is actually holding in her hand. Is it, as George Clarke and others suggest, proof that time travel actually is possible and will exist in the future?
In the video, an older woman, an extra in the 1928 silent classic, walks by on the street several paces behind a man in a hat. She has her hand held to the side of her face in a clutching pose. As she walks past what looks like a saddled zebra, she pauses and looks toward the camera. Her mouth is moving and her hand moves slightly away from her face. It looks as if she is clutching a black object. She then turns her head forward again and walks on.
George Clarke, narrating the YouTube video, noted that he bought the DVD containing the footage in a box set of Charlie Chaplin classics. Being a filmmaker as well as a Chaplin enthusiast, he admitted that he liked to pay particular attention to extras. He noticed the woman and her peculiar mannerism and began to study the scene. Clarke said he had screened over a hundred people in the past year and nobody could give him an “explanation as to what it is.” He said he wanted to “get it out there” (onto the Internet) in order to get other ideas as to what might be occurring in the film.
He goes on to say what he thinks of the woman and her mysterious dark object:
“The only conclusion that I can come to, which sounds absolutely ridiculous to some people, but it’s… a time traveler?”
Some have suggested that the old woman has an ear trumpet to her ear. Ear trumpets were marketed in 1921, seven years before “The Circus” was released and several years before the movie was made. However, as Clarke points out, the shape of the object is all wrong and the woman holds her hand around it in a manner inconsistent with ear trumpets. He also quickly discounts a transistor radio, since they wouldn’t be developed until 1954.
So was the female extra in Charlie Chaplin’s movie a time traveler?
Although the notion of time travel is one that has existed for quite some time, especially for those who need it as a psychological crutch to assuage guilt over past mistakes and for those historical revisionists who would alter important events for different outcomes, it is not an idea that has been seen to contain much viability. Some point to the theories of general relativity and special relativity and make cases in accordance with time dilation problems to show that time travel is improbable.
But setting aside the laws of physics as we currently understand them, could the old woman in the Charlie Chaplin movie be a time traveler? Could the black object be a cell phone? And if so, who would she be talking to in pre-1928, when no one else had a cell phone (nor were there cell phone towers to carry the transmissions)?
In the end, a much simpler explanation (an Occam’s Razor approach), unencumbered by the wishful thinking of those who would change the past (if they could), is probably the most accurate.
The black object the woman clutches to the side of her head could be some form of compress, a dark rag (the film is in black-and-white, so it is unknown if the object is black, blue, maroon, etc.) pressed against her cheekbone, or even gloves (notice what appears to be an uneven edge to the dark form when the woman turns her head).
The fact that she is mouthing something means absolutely nothing, other than she might have simply been talking to herself, uttering an exclamation (which also might explain the pause and turn in the scene). Remember, the movie is silent, so the audience cannot know what is going on around the scene, such as a yelled direction not completely heard or understood (perhaps, “Get your hand away from your face!”). The woman could have turned toward the director and yelled, “What?,” then muttered and moved on.
Also, the viewer is not actually privy to the dimensions of the object, although the viewer to the George Clarke video is open to the power of suggestive persuasion from the director, who refers to the object several times as a “device” (connotes something of a technological nature) and even describes it as “flat,” like a cell phone.
But the Charlie Chaplin time traveler certainly is an entertaining concept and video. And it also works as practical time travel itself. By the time you’ve watched it and reviewed it several times, not to mention listened to Mr. Clarke talk about it, plus read this article about it, you will have traveled into the future at least 15 minutes or so.
George Clarke’s video appeal for an explanation of the Charlie Chaplin time traveler follows.
“Chaplin’s Time Traveler,” YouTube.com