The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920’s German silent-horror film. Robert Weine, the director, collaborated with the German cinematographer, Willy Hameister to create this German Expressionist masterpiece. The idea was taken from the screenplay written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Meyer. It is also considered one of the greatest horror films during the silent period. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and its historical context in terms of the German Expressionist movement will be discussed further in the essay.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released right after World War I. During this period of 1920’s, after the German forces had been defeated in the World War I, the nation had been taken over by the U.S government. This lead to the loss of many lives and the economy was a complete disaster and at a very low point. The citizens were greatly traumatized by the war and to face the truth about their economic depression. This great nation once used to be called the world’s major country. The screenplay written for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari immediately caught the attention of the film industry. Carl Mayer came up with the story when he witnessed a murder and a figure was at the scene of the murder. He then saw the same figure again at the funeral. It represents the troubled and social anxiety that was rampant in Germany at a time of great horror. It was then labeled as a film that portrayed the artistic style of German Expressionism.
The German Expressionist movement was a number of movements that began in Germany during the start of the 20th century. It mainly dealt with poetry, painting, art and cinema. The success of expressionist films helped Germany seen as the most technically advanced in the world. The expressionist style can be seen throughout the film, from beginning to end. The film uses highly-stylised sets with jagged buildings, landscapes, tilted walls and windows, staircases seen in crazy diagonals and spiky trees that resembled knives. This can be seen in Figure 1 below, where Francis (Friedrich Feher) and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) meet Jane (Lil Dagover). One can clearly see the painted on windows and doors and the road. Not only are these presented through the houses and walls but also the landscape such as the hills and trees. The actors in the film as well had jerky, unrealistic movements like Cesare (Conrad Veidt). It is said to be theatrical.
Figure 1. Jane meets Alan and Francis.
The German Expressionists arts examined unconscious forces which silently motivated people to do things. Weine’s film was influenced by the psychological theory by the famous theorist Sigmund Freud, stating how humans may become under the shadow of insanity. He tried to influence the audience into the world of insanity by showing them the inner and psychotic mind of Francis. He also deliberately created the film from the perspective of an insane man which explains why in his flashback, all of the characters are distorted and...