Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) Reviews
Robert Wiene‚??s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari remains a leading German Expressionistic film for it adheres strictly to Expressionism. It revolves around a man named Francis in a shadowy village of spiralling roads and warped edifices called Holstenwall. As he recounts his story in flashback, Francis and his friend Alan attempt to compete for the love of a woman named Jane, whilst a mysterious man named Dr Caligari presents his somnambulist, Cesare, at a fair. As Francis and Alan enter Dr Caligari‚??s spectacle, Cesare perfectly predicts Alan‚??s death, and mysteriously the deaths keep on coming, leading to Francis suspecting Dr Caligari and Cesare of these deaths. But, all is not what it seems, and the fate of Francis is revealed in the end to be a twisted affair of deceit and lies.
From the jagged sets, to the slanting houses, razor-sharp greenery and haunting lighting angles, Caligari comes to life with a deliberate force that cripples our awareness of reality and transports us to a world so deranged it perturbs us. This visual style is the equivalent of spectacular visual effects today, but the visuals of expressionism told a story on its own, rendering every stylistic decision immensely important to the outcome of the film. The setting amounts to a distortion of reality, leaving the viewer unhinged by the world they are inhabiting, unable to escape such a chaotic atmosphere. That is the seduction of this visual style, that it manages, simply through the richness if its imagery, to torment the viewer with an (un)palpable reality. Nothing is natural about Caligari, and that is the essence of its creepiness, because with the use of the fantastically twisted expressionism to guide the story, this unnatural reality comes to life and the impact of Caligari is multiplied.
The serrated and empty sets, dark lighting and distortive visuals of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari will very much leave you feeling confined within the film and in your head, and that very same feeling was replicated, albeit on a lesser scale, by Noir filmmakers 15 years later who realised the technical mastery of it.
The overly agitated acting style of the actors may border on ridiculous but it again serves the Expressionist style. Werner Krauss‚??s Dr. Caligari is your typical confused elderly figure that cannot be trusted for anything. The fact that we know so many facets of his personality by the end, and the fact that he was in his later life a shameful Nazi supporter means he cannot be trusted. Conrad Veidt‚??s Cesare will leave you disturbed simply by the slimy motions of his movements that make you wonder whether those nightmares were true or not. His pale face, alarming eyes, and toothpick silhouette of a figure perfectly heightens the terror of the story. And Friedrich Feher‚??s Francis can be considered such a fatally problematic character where our understanding of him is confused. He brings the story to life, and most importantly encapsulates such a horrifying ending that leaves us purring with pure disbelief.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari reflected a post-war Germany that was in moral breakdown, let alone physical destruction, but in hindsight comes to foreshadow the second wave of social upheaval only 20 years later. Caligari is psychiatrically important, for there was never a war so damaging than the First World War, and the trauma of what soldiers and families experienced during this time incomprehensibly became the fabric of humanity, shaping life from this moment onwards. Screenwriters Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer both came out of the war terribly, with Janowitz left cynical, and Mayer interestingly feigning madness in order to reject the army, which succumbed him to psychiatric tests. These life stories are embedded within Caligari, and we feel the psychological nature attacking our senses. At the forefront of things, Caligari is a simple horror story, but it is also a metaphor of Germany in anarchy, and the horror of what happened only years before, and what was to happen under Adolf Hitler.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is the first acknowledged ending with a twist ever seen in a film. It may be an utterly simple twist, but 95 years ago, this was the shit! It was the biggest shock of classical cinema. The theme of duality is significant for the revelation of another narrative at the end, the rightful one even though we only consume it for an extremely small period, leaves us in a mental frenzy because we find ourselves suddenly betrayed by our protagonist who is actually a patient in a mental asylum. It is superbly shocking stuff because we have been fed such a terrible story that has turned out be a lie in the end. Imagine audiences of the past who read everything as if they were truths now unexpectedly thrust with a uniquely disturbing tale that visually confounded their understanding of reality and produced duplicity that literally fucks with your mind‚?¶ There definitely were thousands of shrieks and a handful of collapses!
Nearly at its centenary, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is by far a timeless classic, but with time has lost its eerie and hypnotic quality, like pretty much most other films of its time, and therefore the blurry visuals, over exaggerated acting styles, baffling sets, lack of talking, and underwhelming storytelling will put many a viewer back, but this cannot take away from the fact that it is as a product older than nearly every single person on this planet, and like everything with age, should be respected for what it has to offer, not compared to the stuff of today.
Having already tasted the light of day for 95 years and counting, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari‚??s horrifying impact and wartime context of release has reduced its impact to nothing, for we are out of touch with a film this old, and in turn can never understand the true bearing of what this film entailed. It nevertheless remains the quintessential depiction of German Expressionist cinema, indispensible to everyone not only for its expressionist nature, or its visual and storytelling ideas, or to pay notice to German cinema, or its historical significance, but to simply understand the roots of cinema and how it grew from the very first cinematic classics into the mega-monolithic industry it is today. German cinema was ahead of Hollywood in the 1920‚??s, but with the social plight of Germany to come, Hollywood borrowed their technical expertise, and has done the same with every other foreign movement since, remaining the homeland of the film industry and the mountaintop for all aspiring filmmakers.
Remaining a classic of German Expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is at 95 years of age a classic of cinema, thanks to its chilling distortion of reality and the very first twist ending ever seen on film.
Very strong direction. The director was very in control and thorough with his actors performances and setting the mood for the story. The sets are absolutely amazing, in a bizarre way. The colors, the shapes of the doors, buildings, windows, etc., the make-up, the behavior, was all so peculiar and well done. It definitely kept my attention.
Extremely dramatic. I would consider it too dramatic but I don't want to knock points off for different styles in different eras. It worked for this film, for sure. It was laughable at some points but it's a silent film so I understand that they had to be creative with communicating through their bodies. Dr. Caligari and Cesare were acted perfectly. They were so creepy and weird. They did a great job.
It's a silent film so really all I can do is comment on the story, rather than the dialogue. The story itself was a trip. Creative, different, interesting. I really enjoyed this film. I was glad to find that it still spooked me despite being from a different time, from a different country, and honestly, because I just don't get spooked too easily. Definitely a fan of the story. I have to say though that if a movie constantly makes me think "Why did you do that?? You should have --" then in my opinion, it could have been better. There were many times where the characters did things that were straight up stupid or just completely puzzling.
Good!! Gotta keep in mind that this was made during the very early years of cinema and the cinematography was either of their own invention or a technique borrowed from fellow film pioneers.
Bechdel test: 0/1
Did not pass. The only female character was Francis's romantic interest and her only role was to be the prize and the dame in distress.
Did I enjoy it? 1/1
I sure did! Definitely recommend it!
Do I ever want or need to see it again? Yes, I would want to watch again.
Do I ever want or need to include it in my own collection? Yes, I own it happily.
Bye love you
The pacing is somewhat glacial, even for a movie that is only a little over an hour long, but the shots are full of inventive expressionistic imagery. The movie is so visually stunning, and watching it in high definition I loved noticing details like fabrics and even clearer views of the art. Both Dr. Caligari and the sleepwalker reflect this art design in their clothing, makeup, and movements. The actors do some truly wonderful things with their expressions.
I really liked the twist at the end, though it has been suggested that the framing story was added to undermine the film's critique of German authority after World War I. Either reading works, but modern audiences may relate more to the framing story because we have seen this twist so many times since then and it fits with our own fears and apprehensions. I think the movie works with or without the framing story.
Why not 5-stars? As I mentioned before, I find the movie a little slow. The plot is also pretty simple, and there are some moments in the film, especially involving Jane, that seem a little out of place, mostly because the art design is so different from the rest of the film. I would have liked to have seen more of her character, but in this respect, the movie rushes past her.
Many horror films in the decades that followed emulated certain elements of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," such as the use of strong lights and shadows in particular scenes, the way the setting amplifies the atmosphere and mood, and the twists and turns the plot takes.