Day 4 (Alex): The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Day 4 brings us to a silent film that is very different, yet so similar, to the horror films we watch today - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  It helps to realize this is a German film created in 1920, just after World War I.  

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is fascinating to study on many levels.  There is a lot to learn about the filming styles, but even more so on the historical significance of the story itself.  I'll attempt to share my thoughts on both.

The play on lights and shadows, along with all of the sharp angles and wild curves, serves up an amazing visual display, so much that it's sometimes difficult to key in on the characters. I found myself often looking at all the colorful set pieces, sometimes forgetting that there is a story to watch.  One technique they used at the end of various scenes is to utilize sharp, closing vignettes to frame the subjects, perhaps for this very reason.  

Speaking of the shadows and lighting, it's interesting to note that they are painted on the set (a feature pointed out to me by my very observant wife), and along with the elaborate costumes and character makeup, add such a strange feel, almost as a precursor to Tim Burton's wild and fantastical sets of current times. 

Let me pause to explain the premise. It begins with a man, Francis, sitting on a bench, talking with an older man, and soon the story is a flashback to the past. Francis and his friend, Alan, are going to a fair, where they run into Dr. Caligari.  At this point, Dr. Caligari received a permit to show his grand spectacle at the fair, which is a somnambulist, a fancy word for a sleepwalker. 

Dr. Caligari claims the somnambulist, Cesare, is under his control, and that upon his command, he will awaken. Once awakened, Cesare states that he will answer any questions from the audience.  Alan asks "How long will I live?", to which Cesare answers, "Until dawn."  In true horror fashion, Alan is stabbed in his home later that night.

The question that arises as Francis begins to investigate Dr. Caligari, is whether he controls Cesare to commit such grievous crimes as murder. It is at this point the film becomes a sharp allegory to that period of German history. Taking on strong themes of a harsh and irrational government authority, Dr. Caligari represents that strong government, and Cesare portrays the soldiers who have been conditioned to kill. It's been theorized that this was a subconscious premonition of Hitler's rise, even more so as the film later dives into elements of insanity and the double-sided nature of mankind.

If you've read this far, you are probably wondering, should I watch this or not? I won't lie. It's not the easiest thing to watch, because there's a fair amount of subtitles to read, and it's just, well, weird.  I say you should definitely give it a chance. Just make sure you're in the right mood for weird and strange.  There is a fantastic twist at the end that is still utilized to this day.  


I'm going to score this based on the knowledge of the times and the creativity, both in the story and in the film techniques.  It served its purpose well and should be noted a true classic of the horror genre.

My overall score is 6 bits out of 8.

You can watch it tonight on Netflix at the following link:

https://www.netflix.com/title/342780