Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Review (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
Fig.1 The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari Poster
The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is a German Expressionist film made in 1920, directed by Robert Wiene and stars Werner Krauss as the famous Dr.Caligari and Conrad Veidt as the somnambulist, Cesare.  The films tells the tale of how the mysterious Dr.Caligari’s somnambulist, Cesare wreaked havoc and panic over the town of Holstenwall. Due to the film’s success, a remake was made in 2005.
After its release, the film became famous for its German Expressionist techniques, which at that time was an art expressionist movement which ran during the time before the First World War. Another reason was that during the time, film makers who moved from Germany to Hollywood had developed their own style of film  which had developed through expressionism and had impressed contemporary film makers from elsewhere that they too incorporated this style and technique into their work.

Since it is a silent film, the film uses dialog cards as well as having the characters communicate by the exaggeration of their gestures. The film begins with Francis recalling the events that he experienced that he and his fiancée Jane went through. The story setting began with the annual fair in Holstenwall which he and his friend Alan was attending to see. They walked into Dr. Caligari’s exhibit, which he shows his somnambulist, Cesare and begins to ask about the future.  Ever since Cesare and Dr. Caligari had arrived into Holstenwall, havoc and panic arises as a series of murders are committed mysteriously. However, at the end of the film, we are shown that we are in fact inside the mind of a madman through the use of production design, the name “Dr. Caligari” being appeared in the sky and hypnotic patterns, as mentioned by Dave Taylor, “Cinematically, director Robert Wiene offers one of the first examples of a film narrative where the viewer knows things that the characters in the story do not. We see the crimes and the perpetrator even as Francis cannot.” (Taylor, 2011)
Fig 2 The design setting is made to look distorted and illusion of reality.

The setting of the film is very expressional artistic, with distorted, jagged buildings whit a lot of silhouettes as well as narrowly distorted roads which mainly contains contrasts between light and dark, which is a way to distort reality and links to Francis and Dr.Caligari, complements the distorted mind of both the fantastical Caligari and Francis.” (Fritz, 2011) Silhouettes and hard lighting is often used to exaggerate to depict the distortedness of the world it is set in. The film also contains a lot of it German Expressionist iconography such as melodramatic acting (like Cesare creeping slowly along the walls.) and the use of colours to depict the good and the bad, i.e. black meaning dominant male evil and dark whereas white is depicted as a young innocent woman, as described by Roger Ebert, “The actors inhabit a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows, staircases climbing crazy diagonals, trees with spiky leaves, grass that looks like knives. These radical distortions immediately set the film apart from all earlier ones, which were based on the camera's innate tendency to record reality.” (Ebert, 2011).  

Fig 3 The black and white colours reflect on the character’s personality along with heavy dark make up.

The film was inspired by a real life sex homicide murder and from one of the writer’s experience of undergoing at the hands of a military psychiatrist. Other film makers have been inspired by this, Albert Hitchcock’s Psycho and most notably Tim Burton with his gothic dark styles, which Cesare quite similarly resembles to Edward in Edward Scissorhands.

List of Illustrations:
Fig 1: Wienne, R (1920) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Poster (online):
Fig 2: Wienne, R (1920) The design setting is made to look distorted and illusion of reality (online):

Fig 3: Wienne, R (1920) The black and white colours reflect on the character’s personality along with heavy dark make up. (online):

Fritz (2011), NEVER A DAY WITHOUT A LINE: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari [Das Kabinet des Dr Caligari] (1920) (online):

Ebert, R (2009), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) (online):
Taylor,D (2011), Review: "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920) (online) :


  1. good stuff, Joey - but don't forget to italicise your quotes.

  2. Hey Jo,

    Just a few thoughts on grammatics here...

    "Another reason was that during that time,"

    I'd change "that" to "the"

    " film which this had developed "

    Id delete "this"

    "Setting the story began"

    Just a rearrange "The story setting began"

    "fairground sex murder"

    For this just a better word "sex homicide" maybe

    "Because of this famous film, other film makers have been inspired by this,"

    Just delete the first bit "Because of this famous film,"

    Other then that I agree with Phil, awsome review with interesting quotations :) Nice work Jo

  3. Hey Stitch,

    Thanks for the grammar tips, its sounds a lot better after the change! :D