Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Space Oddities : Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari

Robert Weine`s Das Cabinet Des Caligari (1920) explores the expressionist movement with moving image , combining reality and a disturbing artistic style to confuse the audience into not being sure if what we are watching is really happening. With angular set design with the windows and doors seeming to cave in on itself, the film looks as if it`s set within a deranged mind that`s view on the world is chaotic and is driven to insanity. The theme of insanity is constant throughout the film as we see Dr Caligari pick off the main characters with his puppet Cesare and we initially believe him to be simply a madman until the revelation at the end where we see him treat this patient like a key to unlock his dreams. To command and do his bidding almost like a God Complex, toying with the victims of Cesare`s murders.

Relying on expressions to tell the tale, the characters were easily understood by using close ups on their facial expressions. Although the expressions were extremely theatrical it made the characters seem comical yet summed up their personalities with hardly any words being used. Roger Ebert dove into this in more detail, observing how the audience responds to how the characters are represented on screen. “Wiene is fond of the iris shot, which opens or closes upon a scene like an eye. This makes the point that we are looking and are privileged to witness events closed to other people. He also sparingly uses a device of superimposing words on the image to show Alan feeling surrounded by voices. Wiene's closeups lean heavily on Caligari's fierce and sinister scowl, the dewy innocence of Jane, and the wide-eyed determination of Alan. The Somnambulist is not very expressive -- he certainly lacks the charisma of Frankenstein's monster, who in a way he inspired -- and is most often seen in long shot, as if the camera considers him an object, not a person.”
Ebert , R (2009) Great Movie ,The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Although limited in colour, the four colour palette gave the audience a clear view of night and day and along with the soundtrack we could easily figure out and predict what was going to happen before the character knew about it. The use of colour symbolism helped us also recognise the role of the characters, whether they were good, evil or neutral. Where Jane and the scientists unaware of Caligaris twisted mind were clad and surrounded in white, those who were indulged with his crimes were clad in black, along with Caligari and Cesare. The text telling us the time of day wasn`t needed, because of the chilling blue which was used at night when the murders occurred creating a chilling atmosphere compared to the warm oranges used in the day when a normal day seemed to be occurring. The use of pink to hint at romance between the main characters also helped us understand the relationship between the two without the use of words confirming the love triangle between Jane and the two friends.

“Francis tells this story as if it were true, but in the end he is revealed as a patient in a mental hospital.  The film does not confirm whether Francis' story is reality, but Freudian theory suggests that this story is a wish fulfillment.  Francis' neurotic mind created and mistook this fantasy for reality in order to displace the guilt over his friend's death by means of dream work and displacing his guilt onto the somnambulist Cesare.”
Freeman, R (2006) Fantasy and Dream Work in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Freeman suggests another argument as to if this entire film was reality or a dream and we could tell from the beginning this would be a whimsical horror where he speaks of spirits and how his fiancĂ© appears out of thin air and almost completely ignores him seems like a delusional romance. Admittedly the ending was confusing until reading several reviews which became clear that instead of Caligari being admitted to mental hospital, the man who was thought to be our hero turned out to be in the position of the villain which makes us question who the real villain was. Where the patient could not accept that his lover didn`t love him in return and his best friend was dead, he instead blamed it upon anyone in his life who he felt was attacking him? In this case, the doctor who was assessing him.  Proof of this would be in the psychological background of this film where Freud`s theory of how patients cope with psychological trauma. “According to Freudian theory, this is also typified by believing a fantasy to be the truth.  "Neurotics turn away from reality because they find it unbearable; the most extreme type of this turning away from reality is shown by certain cases of hallucinatory psychosis which seek to deny the particular event that occasioned the outbreak of their insanity" (Freud, 301).  In this passage, Freud describes the psychological techniques that a neurotic mind uses in order to cope with a traumatic event.” Freeman, R. (2006) Fantasy and Dream Work in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Overall , the twisted horrors haunting atmosphere left the audience intrigued as to what happened next and although we knew what was going to happen before the characters found out ,this gave a sense of power and secret knowledge to the viewer which would later be used in future horrors films , Although silent the lack of words made the film work because we could focus on the comedic expressions to let our imaginations do the talking for us despite slight confusion in some parts such as the end , where the audience was left not knowing whether the doctor was an insane murderer or if it was all a story made up by a mentally unstable man.

Image Source :

Bibliography : 22/09/2015 22/09/2015 22/09/2015


  1. A very thorough and thoughtful review Sarah, with an interesting discussion around the use of colour and light. Also good to see you underpinning your discussion with reference to psychoanalysis :)

    A couple of pointers for you; firstly, you have some strange white highlighting going on in a couple of sections, which means we can't read the text. Don't forget to italicise your quotes, and after the quote, the reference just needs to be the author's surname and the year, both in brackets, so for example, (Freeman, 2006). Have another look here for details on what needs to be included in your bibliography -

    You should also include some images/stills from the film. This will enable you to help your reader visualise what you are describing, and also breaks up the big block of text, making it easier on the eye for your reader. The images will also need to be referenced using the Harvard method.

    All-in-all, a very promising first review :)

    1. Thanks! I went back and looked at my blog ,sorry I didn`t realise about the white highlighting,but, I went back and edited it so hopefully you`ll be able to see the text now! Thank you for giving me the link for Harvard Referencing since I only have basis knowledge about it . I`ll include images and more extensive Harvard Referencing in my next review.