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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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Author Topic: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  (Read 239 times)
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« on: October 05, 2007, 11:55:13 pm »

Tags: Film & Art, German Cinema, Film & Culture, Film History,

Film Analysis Kammerspielfilm, Part 2: The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari by Robert Weine

Note from the author: This post is Part 2 of a trilogy of articles on German Expressionist Cinema movement of the 1920s and 1930s. The name given to this type of cinema is ‘Kammerspielfilm’ meaning ‘Chamber Feature Film’ in German. This trilogy presents three of the most important films that were made during this period.

The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is a 1920 silent film directed by Robert Weine. It is a radiating example of German Expressionist Cinema’s foremost forays into the genre of psychological horror. The film deals with the themes of mind control, mental illness and psychological crime. ‘The Cabinet’ was also one of the first films to include an anti-climatic twist at the end of the story.

Robert Weine tells us a tale of a deranged brilliant psychologist- Dr.Caligari and his somnambulist slave- Cesare. Set against a fantastic outback of Expressionist set design, ‘The Cabinet’ shines with darkness unlike any other film ever made. Bizarre and incredible trapezoidal doorways, ridiculously tall furniture and severely inclined streets are just a few noticeable elements of the world of Dr.Caligari. The unrealistic environment adds to the note that the entire film is being told by Francis who, at the end of the film is revealed to be deranged himself.

‘The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari’ is a 51-minute journey into a painting-in-progress, where the viewer is actually witnessing the various brush strokes as they paint a masterpiece. The film can only be perceived as beautifully grotesque.

The story is the work of a genius, even by present day standards.

A Study of the Plot

As the very first scene opens, there are two men seated at a curious corner. The older of the two men warns the other that there are many spirits that lurk around. As he speaks these words, a beautiful woman clad in ghostly white robes walks by them. The younger man, Francis reveals that he and the woman have gone through a very remarkable event recently. He proceeds to narrate the same.

The event took place in a place called Holstenwall, where Francis was born and it begins with the arrival of a travelling carnival fair and a mysterious mountebank figure. His name is Dr.Caligari, and he approaches the town clerk for a permit to host his act- a psychic somnambulist. The town clerk ridicules him by calling him a “Fakir” and dismisses him but eventually, Dr.Caligari manages to get the permit. Dr.Caligari secures a spot for his business and opens his show. That night, the town-clerk is mysteriously murdered. The town authorities are unable to find any clues. In the mean time, Francis’ friend Alan visits Francis at his home and pleads him to accompany him to the fair.

At the fair, Alan and Francis attend Dr.Caligari’s show. There, the dark doctor introduces his somnambulist and asks a volunteer from the audience to put his psychic skills to a test. Alan steps up and asks the somnambulist about how long he will live to which the somnambulist predicts that Alan has until dawn to live. Shocked and amused by the prediction, both Alan and Francis leave the show and head towards home. On their way back, they meet their lovely friend Jane. Both Alan and Francis are in love with her and they leave it to her to decide which of the both she’d like to wed. They make a pact that no matter whom she chooses, they shall remain close friends.

That night, Alan becomes the second victim of the mysterious murderer. He is found dead in his home at dawn as predicted by the Somnambulist. This sends a shockwave throughout the town and everyone is gripped in fear of the unknown murderer, not knowing his identity or who his next victim will be. Francis, disturbed by the loss of his dear friend, actively undertakes an investigation to find the killer. He suspects the involvement of the villainous Dr.Caligari and proceeds to keep an eye on him.

In the mean time, Dr.Caligari eyes the beautiful Jane and commands his Somnambulist to abduct her while she’s sleeping. But the somnambulist fails his mission as he is followed by several town people and he is forced to release Jane and escape to his own safety. Now, after being convinced that the murders were the doing of the deranged Dr.Caligari, Francis sets on a town-wide search. He is eventually led to a mental asylum. He enquires the staff for a patient named Caligari, but they don’t have anyone registered on that name. He later finds out that the head of the institution is the evil Dr.Caligari himself and based on the journal entries written by Dr.Caligari, he finally apprehends the evil doctor.

The narration ends and we’re taken back to the curious corner where Francis explains to the old man that in the present day, Dr.Caligari is a raving madman chained to his cell. Both men stand up and head back to where they came from. It is now revealed that both the men are patients of the same mental asylum from the town and other such patients include the Jane and Cesare the somnambulist. The asylum is run by a doctor described by Francis as Dr.Caligari in his story. When the doctor comes to make his routine check on his patients, Francis goes into a state of Frenzy and attacks him. He is held back by the staff and put into a strait jacket. Dr. Caligari does a check-up on Francis and claims he knows how to cure his mania.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2007, 11:56:32 pm by Aphrodite » Report Spam   Logged

"He who controls others maybe powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.” - Lao Tsu

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