The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

When film historians talk about German expressionism, they are usually talking about the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. So many subsequent films have been inspired not only by the story of this film, but the filming techniques, the sets and the theatricality of the actors. It is even considered to be one of the first true horror films ever committed to celluloid. Although there had been other stories before 1920 that had horror elements to it, they were routed in reality to the point of them not being that scary. This film however employed surrealist sets and Dada like writing on the walls along with body stockings and strange makeup so that it felt more like a nightmare than an actual film. The players seemed more like dancers moving fluidly through the twisted and jagged landscape than actors on a set.

The story involves a¬†Somnambulist who has been asleep for his whole life but can be awoken at any time by Dr. Caligari, its caretaker. Dr. Caligari takes this somnambulist to a fair and tells the crowd that he can answer any question that a person wants. One brave man steps up and asks when he was going to die. Cesare (the somnambulist) answers tomorrow at dawn. Spooked by this prediction, the man goes home only to be found dead the next morning at dawn. Was it Cesare that committed the murder or was he just that good at predicting? The rest of the film involves a police chase and a strange reveal of Dr. Caligari’s true identity. Cesare is not portrayed really as man, but more of an instrument of Dr. Caligari. He is like a human robot who can only take orders from this grisly old man with severe facial features.

Living in the world of this film has been one of the best film experiences for me. This film is why I love film and why I watch it with all-consuming necessity. I would love to see this in a movie theater surrounded by other people who love this film. This film a necessary part of anyone’s film education. Even if you believe to be entirely style over substance, you will be the better for watching it.


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