Home » The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the first film by Germany to be an Expressionist film. Authorities of an avant-garde movement believed that by using Expressionism in films (as they did in paintings, theater, literature, and architecture) this might be a selling point in the international market. The film proved that to be true and because of its success other films in the Expressionist style soon followed. Siegfried Kracauer discusses The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in his thesis. I will discuss what Kracauer states in his thesis. I will also discuss the changes made to the original story.

Finally, I will state what the expressionist elements are in the film. The film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, is written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer based upon their shared experiences. Kracauer states “Janowitz calls himself ‘the father who planted the seed’ and Mayer ‘the mother who conceived and ripened it’” (347). Mayer chose his main character, the psychiatrist, to be like his archenemy during the war. Janowitz while skimming through a volume called Unknown Letters of Stendhal noticed the name of an officer named Caligari.

He and Mayer liked that name for their character, so they used it. After that both authors finished writing the story and they submitted the script to Erich Pommer, chief executive of Decla-Bioskop an independent production company, who accepted it immediately. Pommer assigned Fritz Lang, an Austrian director, to film the story. Lang, going against the author’s wishes, convinced Pommer to add a framing story to the film. Lang thought that by changing the reality frame it would enhance the Expressionistic elements of the mise-en-scene in the film.

It also converts the body of the film from an antiauthoritarian story into the narration of a paranoid delusion. Robert Weine replaced Lang in the production of the film. He continued in Lang’s footsteps and changed Janowitz and Mayer’s original version. The original story, by Janowitz and Mayer, tell the story of certain murders that happen in a fictitious town called Holstenwall. It ends with Caligari being strapped into a strait jacket. “Janowitz and Carl Mayer half intentionally stigmatized the omnipotence of a state authority.

Manifesting itself in universal conscription and declarations of war” (Kracauer, 349). Kracauer states that Janowitz and Mayer feel that the German war government fit the prototype of that authority. Their character, Caligari, worships power and wants to satisfy his desire for domination. So Caligari stands for an unlimited authority. Cesare functions as a tool for Caligari’s murders. “Janowitz, they had created Cesare with the dim design of portraying the common man who, under the pressure of compulsory military service, is drilled to kill and to be killed” (Kracauer, 349).

The original version of the story is about real horrors. The version by Weine changes the story into a created illusion by a mentally insane Francis. The body of the original story is put into a framing story. Francis is introduced in the beginning of the film talking to a man. Francis tells his story to that man, the story of his experience with Dr. Caligari. The film goes into the telling of the tale as Francis sees it. At the end of the film, instead of just seeing Caligari put into a strait jacket, Francis is seen finishing his narration of his experience and entering an asylum.

In the asylum he encounters some other patients among them is Cesare. He also encounters a doctor who he believes is Dr. Caligari. The doctor learns of this so he now has a way to cure his patient, Francis. The two authors hate the idea of their story being framed because it corrupts their intentions. “While the original story exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene’s Caligari glorified authority and convicted its antagonist of madness” (Kracauer, 351). Robert Weine hired three Expressionist artists to design and paint the sets for The Cabinet of Dr.

Caligari. They are Hermann Warm, Walter Rohrig, and Walter Reiman. The sets created by these three artists embody the tortured state of the narrator’s psyche. German Expressionism depends heavily on mise-en-scene. The lighting, costume and make-up, staging, set design, and performance are all included in mise-en-scene. Weine uses distortion of angles to provide a correlation with the narrator’s insanity. Through chiaroscuro lighting Weine expresses the disturbed mental and emotional state he wants to portray.

In an Expressionist film like Caligari the shapes are distorted and exaggerated unrealistically for expressive purposes. The actors often wear a lot of make-up and move fast or slowly in winding patterns. All the elements of the mise-en-scene interact graphically to create an overall composition. The characters do not exist within a setting but they form part of the visual element that combine with the setting. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the Expressionist stylization is used to show the world within the film as Francis sees it, as the point of view of a lunatic.

For instance, the scene of Cesare escaping with Jane on the rooftops created from jagged peaks and slanted chimneys. This scene does not agree with our conception of normal reality. In the film, Cesare is shown in a manner to blend in with the graphic elements of the settings around him. An example, in the scene when Cesare is in the forest his body resembles that of the tree trunks and his arms and hands that of the tree’s branches and leaves. The iris, a stylistic film technique, is used in the film in various occasions.

It is used to demonstrate change between scenes, to work with distance, to focus attention, and to tell a story. The black area within the iris can show insanity of a character. It is used within a frame composition to grab our attention. The iris can be used to give a close-up of a character. For example, there is a scene in which Caligari is shown, instead of the camera zooming in the iris closes to make it seem like it is zooming in to show a close-up shot. The iris is like an eye looking at the story. The film does not have any camera movement making it more of a theatrical film.

This film is both a restricted and nonrestricted narrative. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has two styles, that of a fantasy film and a psychological film. Fantasy film because it has an imaginary domain. Psychological film because the story revolves around the thoughts of the characters. The film breaks the rules of realism. In the story everything is crooked and all the sets are painted. The people with authority are revealed in exaggerated high chairs. An example is the police sitting on the high chairs in the police station.

Weine uses balanced composition in the film. For instance, Francis is in the police station talking to the police. In this scene Francis is in the middle and on both of sides there are equal amounts of policemen, stools, and triangular window. In conclusion, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a film that with its “Expressionist stylization functions to convey the distorted viewpoints of a madman” (Bordwell and Thompson, 408). This film uses the elements of mise-en-scene to depict the story through Francis eyes. We see the world of this film through the eyes of a crazy man.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment