Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Robert Wiene's 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920)

Fig 1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Poster

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is abstract. The plot is somewhat disorientating; the ending itself raising a few questions. “The Cabinet of Dr Calgari is one of silent cinema’s most sacred objects, credited with being one of the first horror films with one of the first twist endings.” (Kaufman, 2014). The film is set in the German town of Holstenwall where Dr Caligari displays a Somnambulist; he claims that the man, named Cesare, has been sleeping for 23 years. When awakened Cesare tells Francis’s friend Alan that he will be dead by dawn and surely enough Alan is found dead the next morning. 

Fig 2. Street Still

As the plot unfolds you can tell something is not right and the set supports this idea. 
The actors inhabit a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows, staircases climbing crazy diagonals, trees with spiky leaves, grass that looks like knives.” (Ebert, 2009). The set is dark and gives the impression of a painting or drawing. It’s very stylised and the buildings are uneven and crooked coming in many different shapes. We know by looking at the set that it’s not real but this is no coincidence. It’s exaggerated shapes and textures give the audience the impression that they’re seeing the film through the eyes of a mad man and is very similar to how some theatre shows like to remind their audience that the show is not real. “The sets are precarious zigzagging structures that seem ready to topple on the protagonists” (Bleasdale, 2014). An interesting set is shown in the still above. The buildings are warped and bend inwards to where the characters are standing, this is an example of good composition because it draws the eyes to the centre. This was most likely considered when it was being designed. 

Fig 3. Rooftop Still

A particular scene of interest is the scene in which Cesare kidnaps Jane. Cesare carries her to the rooftop, a stereotypical trope we see in films today. Jane is also wearing white at the time of her kidnapping which symbolises innocence and it contrasts nicely with the dark set. The set is also interesting in this scene the rooftop again like in earlier sets curves inwards and draws your eye to where the characters are but it’s also simplistic and gives a basic impression of a rooftop. 

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari proves that you don’t need a big budget to make a good film and that different isn't always a bad thing. 

Illustration List

Wiene, R. (1920) Figure 1. Caligari Poster. http://cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cabinet-Of-Dr.-Caligari-.jpg (Accessed on 23/09/14)

Wiene, R (1920) Figure 2. Street Still. http://mayostreetarts.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/1-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-granger.jpg (Accessed on 23/09/14)

Wiene, R (1920) Figure 3. Rooftop Still. http://www.leninimports.com/cabinet_of_dr_caligari_poster_shop_new_2.jpg  (Accessed on the 23/09/14)


Bleasdale, J (2014) http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/reviews/2014/08/01/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari/ (Acessed on the 23/09/14)

Ebert, R (2009) http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920 (Accessed on 23/09/14)

Kaufman, S (2014) http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk/theatrical-reviews/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-27635 (Accessed on 23/0914)



  1. Well done Kayliegh! First review, done and dusted :)
    Nicely referenced, and a good choice of illustrations - I've just got a couple of points to make at this stage... remember to always put the name of the film in italics, to separate it from the rest of the text. Also, your writing will flow better if you introduce your quote, rather than just dropping it in. Use the author's name, so for example, 'As John Smith notes in his article...'

    Good start :)

    1. Thanks for the tips! I wasn't too sure how to put the quotes in there, but I think that clarifies it now :)

  2. job done Ms Anderson! Great stuff... and see link for a bit more friendly advice! :)

    see link!

  3. Nicely written! Well presented and thoughtful choice in illustrations.