Thursday, 27 October 2011

Film Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” has often been cited as one of THE best horror films from the 1920′s, and one of THE most influencial ones ever"- TerrorCorner. (2011) Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Review.

Fig 1. Title screen of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

A film where it pretty much all came from for the Horror movies of the day, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a silent film that was rather famous in it's time.
The movie starts off with a man named Francis, narrating the story of himself and his friend Alan and how they fell in love with the same woman-Jane.
The two friends stumble upon a circus exhibit where a person by the name of Dr. Caligari has on show a somnambulist (sleepwalker) (Play Sleepwalker by Adam Lambert for extra mood) named Cesare.

Fig 2. Dr. Caligari (Far left), Cesare and Jane (Right)

Caligari claims that Cesare can predict a person's future and as curiosity grabs hold of any person at the very thought of that sentence, Alan steps up to have his future predicted to him. His curiosity is then turned into horror as the somnambulist states that he will die before dawn. He does. And that is sad.
Francis then delves deep into investigating the strange mystery behind Dr. Caligari and Cesare. He discovers that Dr. Caligari is a doctor at a mental asylum who becomes obsessed with the study of sleepwalkers and as a result, decides to take up an independent experiment involving a somnambulist (Cesare) himself.
Meanwhile, Cesare is commanded by Dr. Caligari to kidnap and murder Jane so as to prevent Francis from finding out the truth. Cesare does not kill her as he is captivated by her 'immense beauty'. Whilst kidnapping Jane, Cesare is chased by the town's people and later dies of exhaustion after abandoning the girl.
The story concludes as a rather large twist in the plot where Francis, Alan and Jane are all revealed to be patients at the mental asylum and the Dr. Caligari is the head doctor of the institution.

Fig 3. A scene from the movie that holds a striking resemblance to the works of Tim Burton

Only after the conclusion of the film does one realize that the sets of the film are the most appropriate with regards to the plot line. With the hypnotizing spirals and the tilted floor planes, the whole world is given a lopsided sense of delirium. Reviewer Robert Ebert rightly states "The first thing everyone notices and best remembers about "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920) is the film's bizarre look."Even the monochromatic medium (which was the only choice of film at the time but was powerful in denoting the feel of the film) contributes greatly to the bleak aspect that is strong in the film." - Ebert, Roger. (2009). Roger film review.

Fig 4. A Set Design of the townscape

This film has a strong resemblance to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. One even sees hints of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Clearly, the famous Tim Burton also got majority of his inspiration from this movie
Maybe the availability of a singular colour scheme fostered the mind to produce films that had a predominantly dark nature.  The expressions of the actors within the film put one in mind of the numerous parodies that ridicule the acting style of the day. Again, this is where it all came from. As reviewer Julia Merriam rightly states "Everything has to start somewhere"- Merriam, Julia. (2008) film review
This entertaining piece of Film Noir is easy to understand and is not an obnoxiously lengthy film that causes one to view a train of Zs atop their fellow audience's heads.


Merriam, Julia. (2008) film review.The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Available online at (Accessed 26th October 2011)

Ebert, Roger. (2009). Roger film review. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Available online at (Accessed 26th October 2011)

TerrorCorner. (2011) Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Review. Available online at (Accessed 26th October 2011)

Shelley, Mary. (1818). Frankenstein. London. Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones

Stoker,Bram.(1897). Dracula. London.Archibald Constable and Company 


Figure 1. Wiene,Robert.(1920).The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Figure 2. Wiene, Robert. (1920).The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Figure 3. Wiene, Robert. (1920). The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Figure 4. Wiene,Robert. (1920). The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

No comments:

Post a Comment