The Artist is a movie about talking—the exciting new film genre is the talkie, the press is hot on the scene to sniff out the "talk of the town," and George refuses to talk, which gives his competition Peppy Miller (a.k.a. the "sound of love") a real leg up.
New communication technologies like the radio and the microphone are dazzling everyone, but the real trouble is plain and simple: face-to-face communication.
George's resistance to talkies is linked to his difficulty communicating.
The media plays a major role in the fame and popularity of the actors in The Artist.
Who am I? It's the classic question asked by pretty much every character in every work of fiction, ever. But there's another layer at play in a movie like The Artist, which is all about acting—in other words, pretending to be someone you're not.
Shakespeare said it with "all the world's a stage," drawing attention to the little one-act plays we stage throughout our days, whether we're feigning interest in a story Grandma's telling about Mildred's sister's uncle's cousin, or pretending not to be nervous on a first date.
In short, the characters in The Artist are always searching for themselves in the world around them and in the characters they play (both on and off-screen).
In The Artist, George and Peppy's real-life identities begin to blur with their onscreen personas (or rather, you can read the story of their characters through the roles they play).
Peppy and George both learn to see themselves more clearly by looking at each other.
There's a scene in The Artist where George, who's just been fired and is heading down the stairs at Kinograph, meets Peppy, who's just been hired and is going up the stairs. It might seem gimmicky, but the visual composition is a beautiful example of how the change George rails against is inevitable. There will always be someone else coming up the stairs.
Living in a time partitioned out by pretty huge things like the invention of film and the stock market crash, it's understandable that the characters in The Artist will experience change. For some, those changes are thrilling, and for others, paralyzing.
George's resistance to change is not inherently bad.
Fear of change in the movie is actually fear of loss.
From the moment Peppy and George are thrown together in The Artist, they're vying for the spotlight. Part of their "will they/won't they" allure is driven by their competing star qualities—they both shine pretty brightly.
Their gender difference works to Peppy's benefit. The 20s and 30s were all about the "new woman," the flapper, the independent single lady, making bank without the help of a man. With his popularity waning, George's self worth and market value take a nose-dive.
The power struggle between our two leads is plumped up by their chemistry, but ultimately George has to get over his macho tendencies, let Peppy care for him, and follow her lead to make his way back on screen.
The movie shows that competition is healthy and important. It drives the characters to do their best.
George is unable to deal with Peppy's success because she's a woman…and younger than him.
Because The Artist is a movie about movies, it portrays many different worlds—both fantasy and real-ish.
After all, movies themselves are reconstructed to resemble reality. Take the Kinograph film set: one day it's dressed to look like California under mid-1800s Mexican rule, featuring Valentin as the swashbuckling Zorro, and the next it's home to zillions of plumed chorus girls. The ability to enter and exit these worlds with ease is the dream of actors like Peppy and George.
But the film also shows us other versions of reality—those tied to madness and delusion, substance abuse and depression.
Fantasy is a means of escape from reality for the characters in The Artist.
Imagining different versions of reality allows us to imagine and pursue a different future.