In the Charlie Chaplin film "The Kid" (1921), there is a scene where his character, who is apparently supposed to be Christian, is being threatened with violence by a thug. As he walks backwards, dodging the swings from the thug, they appear under a sign that says "BEDS 10 CENTS".

When the thug swings at Charlie's character underneath the sign, it starts swinging back and forth from its hinges. Charlie's character notices this and makes the Christian "prayer hands" sign while looking up at the sign.

Here is the YouTube video clip showing it: The Kid, Charlie Chaplin fight scene one of the funniest scenes in kid.

Can this be explained somehow, other than simply being a fun visual gag? I mean, is it based on something? Would a Christian make such a prayer sign at a sign because it swings? Because the thug missed him? As if God saved him from the punch hitting him?

Is that "prayer sign" with the hands against each other something that Christians do/did to basically say: "Thanks for saving me from that danger, God!"?

  • 1
    You'll be hard put to be able to answer this definitively. One might as well ask what Christians do as they enter a place of worship . . . . . it varies. I usually clasp my hands together (knuckles) in situations where I cannot adopt my private posture of solitary prayer. One can squeeze the hands together in an emphatic and intense way which cannot be done with 'flat hands'. What Hollywood portrays (as we all know) can be a very unrealistic and falsely idealistic image of real human behaviour. – Nigel J Dec 7 '20 at 18:16
  • 1
    In many sign languages, the word for prayer is to put your hands flat together. It's universally understood. – 4castle Dec 8 '20 at 6:28

In silent movies, actors had to do things in an exaggerated way in order to communicate the idea to the audience:

  • People made that praying-hands gesture to indicate "thank God".
  • Women put the back of their arms to their foreheads to show that they were about to faint.
  • Gangsters pumped their guns forward each time they fired.
  • Heads were tipped back to indicate swallowing a pill.

But even in modern film and TV, the actors still do this, though far less melodramatically:

  • Remote controls are pumped at the TV to indicate they are being used.
  • Mobile phones are disabled by being snapping in two and thrown out a window.
  • Computer accounts have all-upper-case passwords.
  • Concealed listening devices have a red light, and bombs have a flashing red light.
  • Guns and rifles are repeatedly used to make threatening "chicka" sounds.
  • Bullets make sparks whenever they ricochet off something.
  • Seatbelts are blatantly fastened, but only when the chase scene is about to get even more ridiculous.

These all are movie memes that we see and take for granted without realizing that it doesn't match real life.

  • 1
    . . . . but, having said that, the exaggerated gestures are sometimes copied off the screen. So, as the saying goes. 'Life imitates art'. +1. – Nigel J Dec 7 '20 at 21:51

The sign that a Catholic or Orthodox Christians makes while blessing (or strengthening) himself is the Sign of the Cross; that is, he touches his forehead with his palm saying: “In the name of the Father", then his left shoulder saying "..and of the Son" and his right shoulder saying "..and of the Holy Spirit".." and finally clasps his palms saying "..Amen". Over a period of time, the sign has shortened in different ways. Chaplin was perhaps too busy protecting himself that he forgot to make the Sign of the Cross and did only the last part, which is a sign of supplication.

  • And, if you closely watch, Chaplin is not looking at the board, but straight 90 degree above, that is, he is looking at the heavens! – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Dec 9 '20 at 9:47
  • Charlie Chaplain might have been a Protestant. Protestants do not generally make the sign of the Cross. Do you know if Charlie is even a Christian? – Ken Graham Dec 10 '20 at 22:01
  • Yes, but Chaplin would still make the the sign of supplication which is universal and is in the genes of human beings. This sign is presented not just before God, but before other human beings, and even animals ! What would be the body language of a Protestant who , on a trekking in Canada comes face to face with a wild bear ? He would stand frozen with arms clasped in humble supplication as if to say "please spare me gentle bear ". – – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Dec 11 '20 at 4:28
  • See footnote z in Wikipedia; Chaplain requested an Anglican funeral, but could probably be classed as agnostic. – Andrew Leach Dec 11 '20 at 17:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.