The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Film Review

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Film Review
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is classed as a silent horror film, made in Germany in 1920. It was directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Friedrich Feher plays Francis, Werner Krauss plays Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt plays Cesare, the somnambulist.
There is a large discussion centered around who the story is told by and which version of events was true as throughout the majority of the film Dr. Caligari is portrayed as villainous, however at the end of the film it is shown that Dr. Caligari was a director at an asylum and that the murders that Dr. Caligari committed where made up by Francis, who is a patient at the asylum.
One point that supports the theory that Dr. Caligari is the director at the asylum is that there is an increased amount of natural scenery in the scenes which show him as the director. The scenes which relate to Dr. Caligari as the one controlling Cesare to commit murder, are the ones with settings that are most unnatural to look at.

The stylistic choices for the typeface for the speech, accentuates the underlying themes of horror and death as the font is jagged and threatening, which can also link in with some of the methods used to murder such as the stabbing in the first death, as the font is white, sharp and pointed, like a knife. The film often uses close-up shots of characters faces to show their emotions and feelings as the film does not have sound, so all emotions need to be shown through body and facial expressions.
The unnatural way that the settings have been designed, suggests that the person who is telling this story is insane and that the way in which they view the world is deranged. In the scene where the first murder takes place there is a window which is depicted as a large, sharp triangle shape which could relate to the typical shape of a knife which can be associated with the way in which the man was stabbed to death in this scene. Often the scenery and settings link in with the horror themes that the film features.
The film uses light to accentuate the haunting atmosphere that is being created by the scenery through the heavy and long, dark shadows which build up a mysterious and dangerous feeling to the location of the film. At time the shadows conceal some of the characters who then appear out of the darkness, allowing them to come across as even more threatening and dangerous. The elongated shadows help to remind the audience of the underlying themes of insanity that the film explores. 

The costumes that the characters wear help the audience to distinguish between the protagonists and antagonists of the film as in one scene Dr. Caligari is shown to be wearing only black, whilst Jane is wearing a white dress which could help to symbolize her good nature and her innocence among the other characters who have darker actions and roles to play within the film.
All of the main characters make-up in the film has been exaggerated as their faces are painted white and their lips and eyes are darkened black which could link into how the person telling the story is insane and experiencing madness. The accentuated make-up also helps to influence the eerie atmosphere and the dark themes that the film is exploring.
In one of the scenes, Jane is shown to be sleeping and Cesare is creeping into her room with the intention of murdering her. A close-up shot is often used in this scene so that the audience can get an idea of the thoughts and feelings that Cesare is experiencing as he goes to commit the crime. The way that the close-up shot is done, means that the shot is almost in a diamond-like shape which frames Cesare in a way which exaggerates his creeping movements and it frames Jane as being quite small, innocent and helpless as she sleeps.

Cesar's sleep almost traps him and in a way he is enslaved within his own mind and forced to commit Dr. Caligari's crimes which could link in with the running themes of madness and how people can be insane and stuck within their own minds, experiencing the world whilst trapped in their own thoughts.
Throughout the film the people with authority who have power, such as the police, are shown to be situated on exaggerated, long chairs which only helps to heighten their power and influence over the other characters, which could also relate to how the authority is a big part in the ending of the film and how the police and people working at the asylum, dictate how either Francis or Dr. Caligari's fates shall end.

Music plays a big part in building up the atmosphere within the film and it also helps compliment and accentuate what is happening on screen. An example of this is when Cesar awakens for the first time within the fair, the music builds up in tone and pitch to increase the amount of tension that the audience is experiencing. Towards the end of the film the music stays eerie and dark which also helps indicate to the audience that there will be no happy ending for any of the characters in the film. It was probably chosen to be this way so that the themes of horror would remain a major part of the film. Horror movies typically have no happy ending and they leave the audience feeling uncomfortable.

In conclusion The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a film that uses its settings and scenery to influence the atmosphere of the scenes and the way in which the audience is responding to the characters and to what is happening on screen. The lighting, music, make-up and costumes come together to build up the scenes and help to compliment the themes of horror that the film explores. The production helps to develop the story through reinforcing the eerie atmosphere to create a film that has inspired many other horror films over the years.


  1. Hi Maddi - welcome to the world of the film review :)

    Well written and thoughtful - this is an excellent start, well done!

    What you need to do for your next review, is to back your own observations up with supporting evidence in the form of at least 3 quotes from recognised published sources. These need to be embedded into your own discussion, and referenced using the Harvard method - see here

    This method of referencing is also used for the images, and for creating a bibliography and image list at the end.

    Looking forward to reading your next review :)

    1. Thank you for the advise! I shall add it in! :)


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