The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Review

Verdict: Creepily interesting

Expressionistic style and story with an interesting ending.


Francis (Friedrich Feher) and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) go to a festival and once there, get intrigued by Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt). When Alan asks Cesare how long he will live for, Cesare proclaims that he has until dawn tomorrow. When this proves to be true, Francis sets out to gather evidence against Cesare and Dr. Caligari. Directed by Robert Wiene.

If you have never been exposed to the visual style of expressionism before, you might find this quite off putting. This film uses a lot of expressionistic visual styles and is consisted mainly of oblique lines and weird angles not generally found in the environment. This is because everything you see was made on set even up to the lighting which was all artificial. The shadows too were painted. In this aspect, I find the mise-en-scene pretty impressive, as everything was artificially created and enhanced the visual style greatly.

The story also reflects the expressionistic style in the film. Though the film makes the audience think we’re dealing with a murder, what is real and what isn’t gets muddled at the end, in what I feel is a pretty incredible ending. The film leaves it open for interpretation so that you could go whichever way, much like how Inception ended.

Both narrative and mise-en-scene compliment each other greatly, and could even be used as a type of imagery of a madman’s mind. I find this type of cinema quite interesting, though of course it is in black and white (with colour edits) and is a silent film. Plus the acting is theatrical, which is not what we are used to on screen and can make it a bit boring at times.

To sum-up:
PROS: Mise-en-scene, story, open ending
CONS: Bit boring at times

I give this a 7/10.

Have you seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? Rate it out of 5 stars above and let me know what you think of expressionism in the comments below!


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