Almost every person has a preconception of the darkest form of humanity: evil. One German film exemplifies this classic struggle of right and wrong, while addressing deeper emotional messages. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was made in 1919 and directed by Robert Weine. The film features a character named Francis, the protagonist, who seeks revenge against Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, Cesar, whom he believes murdered his friend. In one specific scene, Cesar attempts to kill a beautiful woman named Jane, Franciss fiance coincidentally, at Caligaris request.
Judging by Cesars previously witnessed brutal and robotic nature, it is assumed that as he creeps up to her gentle sleeping body that her time has expired. Magically, he cannot commit the deed. Overcome with affection, he instead lovingly reaches to cradle her head. She awakens, screams, and struggles. Cesar snaps out of his funk and overtakes her, eventually escaping with her on his back. This intense scene conveys the message that even the darkest forms of evil are not completely devoid of humanity, giving the audience the faintest glimmer of hope that good can always shine through malevolence.
Cesar has no mind of his own; rather he is the puppet of the sinister Dr. Caligari. This is strikingly obvious just before the attack on Jane. As Cesar slinks down the corridor to the bedchamber his movements are awkward and unnatural, similar to puppets movements. At one point he even pauses, as if to mentally rethink the plan for murder Caligari has laid down. This attention to said murder agenda points that normal people can be highly susceptible to perform evil deeds. In essence, Cesar is not an evil person, but one who has been mentally dominated by the evil Caligari.
One could play a contemporary television therapist and venture to state that Cesar is the victim in all of this. In fact, Cesar the sleepwalking killer never existed before Caligari came into place. One can therefore also determine that evil spawns more evil. Kindness and humanity always find a way to shine through the depths of rage and hate. Poised in a striking position, primed to kill, something inside Cesar snaps. He is rendered momentarily immobile, unable to perform the deed he has been commanded. Love (or at least pity) has finally surfaced! As they say, music soothes the savage beast.
It appears as if beauty soothes the savage killer as well. Perhaps the human in Cesar has finally awoken after years of slumber, for he is incapable of killing the helpless Jane. This breakdown of evil is evident in other sources, most notably Fritz Langs M. Peter Lorres character, a murderer, has yet another victim well in his clutches. However, a change of heart beckons his decision to let the girl free. As in Caligari, these movies help to quell one of humanitys greatest fears, at least temporarily: the fact that evil is absolute and unquestionably brutal by nature.
If only the corporate world would practice the sparse compassion of these villains, perhaps the public opinion of big business would not be so bleak. Unfortunately, the reprise of feeling does not last long. Overcome by tenderness, yet thriving to expedite more death, Cesar cannot keep from his dark deeds. After cradling her head softly, one of the few displays of outward affection in the entire film, the moment abruptly shatters as Jane awakes. It is debatable whether or not he would have left her unharmed had she not awakened, but the fact that she wakes destroys any hope of escape.
At this sign of struggle, the moment of tenderness is but a memory, and Cesar is once again the slave of Dr. Caligari. At this point the film footage itself ends, and it is time to attempt to piece together what is not explicitly stated on screen. The scene abounds with commentary pertinent to both the film and society. First of all, the fact that evil can be conditioned is a scary thought indeed. It was this line of thinking that led to the red scare of the 1950s in the United States.
We were afraid that the enemy was brainwashing our citizens, but more frightening, re-assimilating them in our society to corrupt others. In fact, mental power is a well-researched issue, particularly in Eastern Europe. The powers of hypnosis and suggestibility were well documented in the early to mid 20th century, and still continue to this very day. The myth of Caligari feeds off this question: can a person be driven to commit murder against his or her will? Fortunately, modern research tells us emphatically no, but this answer was not so clear during the decades immediately following the production of Caligari .
This conflict of normality versus corruption and insanity is a substantial theme throughout the rest of the film, as the line between insanity and sanity becomes blurred. Another important concept is the fact that evil is not total in nature. Cesar demonstrates, as many screen monsters in the future were to duplicate, that being a hideous evil creature may not be what it is cracked up to be. Maybe these outsiders have longings and feelings of their own and are not simply murderous drones.
Cesar, therefore, may not be simply a stone-faced puppet, but a tortured soul longing to gain sanctuary. Count Dracula is not just some pent-up old-timer donning a tuxedo and cape who kills just for the thrill of sucking blood, but rather a lonely being who takes others lives in order to sustain his own. Maybe it is okay for these traditional enemies of society to take a breather, in order to savor the feelings a free spirit experiences. And since love is considered the most basic and important human emotion, it would be a good enough start.