“Awaken for a moment from your dark night.”
Filmed entirely in a studio of intentionally bizarre and misshaped sets, 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari takes its viewers on a twisted ride full of murder, insanity, and a sleepwalking. It stars Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari, Friedrich Feher as Francis, Lil Dagover as Jane, and Conrad Veidt as Cesare. It was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It was directed by Robert Wiene. The silent film is considered one of the best representations of German Expressionism during the early 1900s. The film was divisive for critics and general filmgoers alike during its initial run in Germany and proved to be the same in other parts of the world due in part to the reception of Germany in general after the first World War. Despite this, Caligari would become one of the most influential films not just of its time, but of all time both in Germany and worldwide.
The film opens with Francis and another man talking. Francis then points out his fiancee, Jane, to the man and begins to tell him the story of Dr. Caligari. As Francis tells the story, we learn how Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist (a sleepwalker) named Cesare to murder people in the town of Holstenwall. The town is thrown into chaos as they attempt to discover who is committing the murders. Eventually Francis discovers the truth of Dr. Caligari and he follows him to a local insane asylum. To tell you what happens next would ruin the film. If you haven’t seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I highly recommend that you see it.
I could spend a lot of time discussing the themes covered in this film but I believe that it would be best for you to discover them for yourselves. You can easily look them up on the internet as well, but I highly recommend watching the film first. While you will most likely pick up on some of the themes easily, others will require you to place yourself in the mindset of Germans in the 1920s and/or the world as a whole at the time. The movie is entertaining on its own, but as you begin to recognize the themes involved you will realize that it is much more than a horror film about a murderer that uses an innocent sleepwalker to do his dastardly deeds.
The film is creepy. The cast all do an amazing job, especially Feher as Francis and Veidt as Cesare. The sets are amazing. They are a visual feast even if they are in black and white. Everything is out of whack and off balance. In all honesty they reminded me of many of Tim Burton’s creations, especially Beetlejuice, The Corpse Bride, and his short, Vincent. That being said, as much as Burton’s style seems to resemble Caligari, he admits that he didn’t see the film until well into his adulthood.
Be sure to check out this amazing film. You will not regret it.
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