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Review: Time Traveler in Charlie Chaplin Film?

Is she a time traveler or are there more logical explanations?

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating
User Rating 2 Star Rating (3 Reviews)


Charlie Chaplin time traveler

Is this woman using a cell phone -- in 1928?

Now that the whole world, it seems, has viewed this behind-the-scenes footage of the Charlie Chaplin film, "The Circus" that some allege might show a time traveler, it's time to step back and be logical about the whole thing.

First things first: Does this footage actually even exist on the DVD's special features as filmmaker George Clarke claims? I have not been able to get a copy of this DVD to confirm this. (If someone can confirm it, please let me know.) Because if it's not on the DVD as claimed, then all of the discussion is moot; it's a hoax. But let's assume for the sake of argument that it is on the DVD.

The time traveler theory

As curious as this footage appears, I don't think there are many people who seriously think that this woman (if indeed it is a woman) is a time traveler.

The clip has raised the discussion as to whether or not time travel is even possible. It is not possible today, certainly, but will it possible in the future? Could people from the future be time traveling to our past and our present? There's no way of knowing. Those who centend that time travel is impossible -- and never will be possible -- are short-sighted, I think. Because it is impossible to us today does not mean that future generations will not figure out a way to do it. Traveling faster than the speed of sound was once declared impossible. Space travel and landing on the moon were once thought impossible even by some of our greatest minds. But if there's one thing we've learned, it's never to say never. In the future there could be some breakthrough that we cannot presently imagine that will allow time travel, notwithstanding the inherent paradoxes.

So time travel might be possible some day, but is the person in this film footage a time traveler simply because she looks like someone talking on a cell phone?

Reasons against the time traveler theory

When confronted with an apparent mystery such as this one, we have to resort to Occam's Razor, which states that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is most likley the correct one. And in this case, that she is a time traveler is not the simplest explanation.

Why she's not a time traveler:

  • As has been stated by many, it's absurd to think that she is talking on a cell phone because a cell phone infrastructure did not exist in 1928. No cell towers. No network. So who would she be talking to and how? So despite appearances, she's not talking on a cell phone.
  • Besides, do you think cell phones as we know them today will even exist in just 20 years from now? Probably not. There will be some other, more advanced form of communication that does not require the user to hold the device up to her ear. (We already have the hands-free Bluetooth devices.)
  • Even if it were not a cell phone, but some other type of communications device, it seems logical to assume that a person from the future would have a means of communication that did not require something as crude as a box you hold to your ear.
  • Some have argued that a person from the future would not be so conspicuous as to talk on a high-tech device, lest she be found out. On the other hand, in 1920 no one would know what she was doing and wouldn't -- maybe couldn't -- even imagine that she was talking to someone with such a wireless device.

I think we can safely conclude with a very high degree of certainly that this is not a time traveler.

So what is she doing?

There are a few plausible possibilities:
  • The idea that seems most likely is that the old woman is hard of hearing and is using a small, box-like hearing amplifier, which were available at the time.
  • She has a toothache and is holding a compress on her jaw to ease the pain.
  • She's just a bit looney and is talking to herself.

Those who have suggested that it's a portable radio or tape recorder... well, those did not exist yet either.

And let's not forget that this could all be a hoax.

User Reviews

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 2 out of 5
Cell Phone in 1928, Member Lady_Daffodil

It is a very interesting story. Time slip? Maybe. I'm fascinated with that kind of stuff. Most likely, though, it was one of the suggested explanations, a hearing device, the lady was holding an ice pack on a sore jaw, something like that. I'd be interested to see a picture if anyone has one.

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