Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Space Oddities: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

A clear example of German Expressionism, Robert Weine's "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari" (1920) set itself apart from other films of this time. By exploring the fragmentation, distortion and deterioration of reality, it makes you wonder if your own mind can be trusted. Caligari is the first piece of cinematography to truly delve into the horror genre.
Fig. 1 Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
Some people may be put off by the lack of colour or sound but the set design, makeup, exaggerated theoretical acting and lighting allows to the film to remain a classic to this day. "The whole atmosphere is of a world gone wrong; like a dream worthy of Salvador DalĂ­. Nothing is square or straight. The buildings loom in on you; windows sweep upward, slanted or curved; doors are obscenely angled holes beckoning you to enter and be trapped inside," (Eaton, 2002). Although the sets are definitely unrealistic, it extends the intent of creating a surreal and uneasy environment. It causes discomfort, there never appears to be anywhere for the characters to escape since everything feels sharp and claustrophobic. 
Fig. 2
The set design further enhances the idea of psychological illness and insanity. Although it may not be obvious at first, but this jagged landscape reflects the mindset of our main character, Francis (Freidrich Feher) as he attempts to capture Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) who uses Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a somnambulist to commit crimes. These crimes include the murder of Francis' friend Alan (Hans Heinrich) and the abduction of Jane (Lil Dagover).

However, it is later discovered Francis' story about Caligari is in fact nothing but a fragment of his imagination, using people in the asylum as characters in his story. "'Caligari' creates a mindscape, a subjective psychological fantasy. In this world, unspeakable horror becomes possible," (Ebert, 2009). This inability to distinguish between reality and imagination is perhaps why The Cabinet of Caligari is considered to be the first true horror film. 
Fig. 3
"The film has been described not just as one of the first 'horror' films, but one of the first examples of a movie generating a real psychological uneasiness in its audience," (Stend, 2014). Even now the idea of insanity and psychological illness makes people feel uneasy, perhaps because it is misunderstood. During the time of the film's original release, Caligari was probably even more unsettling than to people now. This is due to the fact that only recently has mental illnesses truly been brought to the public eye in an attempt to understand and accept it. 

Weine skillfully uses sharp architecture, high contrast lighting and various other elements mentioned above to make the viewer believe what they are seeing at first, but later coming to the realization it was all an illusion. Making people question themselves and what they think is reality makes The Cabinet of Caligari a classic film that still inspires horror films to this day.

Eaton, T. (2002) Discovering Silent Film At: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0010323/reviews (Accessed on 22/02/2015)
Ebert, R (2009) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920 (Accessed on 22/09/2015)
Stend, S. (2014) Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari - review At: http://silentlondon.co.uk/2014/06/24/das-cabinet-des-dr-caligari-review/ (Accessed on 22/9/2015) 

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) [Poster] At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920 (Accessed on 22/09/2015)
Figure 2. [Screenshot] At: https://vintagemoviereviews.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/caligari.jpg (Accessed on 22/09/2015)
Figure 3. [Screenshot] At: https://axlrosstumanut.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/vlcsnap-2013-02-24-17h29m23s202.png (Accessed on 22/09/2015)


  1. Well, Deanna...you've got the 'review ball' rolling, and very successfully too, I must say! Well done :)

    Just a couple of minor niggly points; don't forget to italicise the film names - you have done so at the beginning, but have forgotten towards the end. Also, have another look here, at how you reference images -


    Try and introduce the quotes; this is usually easiest via the author's name. So for example,
    'As Roger Ebert explains in his review...etc' (Actually, I think you have omitted the in-text reference for the Ebert quote :) )

    All-in-all, a very positive start! :D

    1. Thanks for the feedback ^_^ I changed a few of those things such as the italicized film names, my Ebert reference, and the Illustration sources because they would have bothered me.

  2. Hey Deanna :)

    Very happy to read this - insightful, readable, content-rich! Job done - and with style and confidence too. I look forward to reading many more of your reviews.