The link between expressionism and horror quickly became a dominant feature in many films and continues to be prominent in contemporary films mainly due to the German expressionist masterpiece Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari. Wiene’s 1920 Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari utilized a distinctive creepiness and the uncanny throughout the film that became one the most distinctive features of externalising inner mental and emotional states of protagonists through various expressionist methods. Its revolutionary and innovative new art was heavily influenced by the German state and its populace in conjunction with their experience of war; Caligari took a clear cue from what was happening in Germany at the time. It was this film that set cinematic conventions that still apply today, heavily influencing the later Hollywood film noir genre as well as the psychological thrillers that has lead several film audiences to engage with a film, its character, its plot and anticipate its outcome, only to question whether the entire movie was a dream, a story of a crazy man, or an elaborate role play. This concept of the familiar and the strange, the reality, the illusion and the dream developed in Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari, is once again present in Scorsese’s 2010 film Shutter Island. It is laced with influences from different films of the film noir and horror genre, and many themes that are directly linked to Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari shot 90 years prior.
The majority of Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari is told through a series of flashbacks, with the scenes having expressionist-inspired set design and deformed locations to emphasize the unreliable and deluded state of mind of the storyteller. The young protagonist Francis tells the story of a visiting carnival, which brings the evil Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist slave to town. After a series of strange murders and the kidnapping of the Francis’ betrothed, he discovers that Dr. Caligari is the mad director of the asylum, and that his catatonic servant is behind it all. The narrative returns to the present moment of the Francis’ retelling the story to an unidentified man sitting next to him, with Francis concluding his tale. A twist ending reveals that Francis' flashback, however, is actually his own fantasy. Shutter Island deals with the same plot line, theme of unreliable narrators and depiction of character; two U.S. Marshalls, Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck are sent to a hospital for the criminally insane to investigate a disappearance. As their investigation goes deeper and deeper Teddy begins to suspect a deeper plot involving the hospitals’ head psychiatrist, the disappeared Rachel Solondo and Andrew Laeddis, the man who killed his wife.
One of the most dominant themes in both movies is the two unreliable narrators; they are in fact both patients in their respective mental facilities. In Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari Francis makes up the entire story, or at...