The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) Reviews
As the base of horror movies, this film still holds up. With brilliant set designs, smart story, and creepy atmosphere, I think this will last for many many years.
It happens so frequently that a character walks past one of these paper thin props and knocks into them, revealing their phoniness like an Ed Wood picture. I don't think it's unintentional based on how often it happens. It wants us to recognize that this is theater of the mind, it's a recount of someone's story, not the actual events. These are clues that shake the viewer as they shake the teller who sees them. 48:57 Cesar running , 54:32, 58:04, 1:05:35 Caligari haunted by text runs into tree and flops around bush next to it
*00:11:10 - Iris on spinning object and crank operator, iris out to the faire going on. Passersby offering payments. Then Caligari enters, keenly observing all the goings on. He will now descend the stairs where before he ascended in his reveal.
00:23:10 - Townsman lighting lamp at night as Francis and Alan come around corner. Space and depth created by unveiling from behind 2D set pieces. Town is Seuss-like, no straight lines.
00:30:00 - WS Francis and the policemen. Francis has explained his case and now the policemen confer, a third joining them. As they do, Francis slowly steps forward, talking to himself, a seeming madness growing in him. It's ambiguous, but probably a foreshadow into the last act where he is shown to be insane. Either that or he is very disturbed by the "dreadful deeds" of the killer stabbing his friend Alan. He may even feel some remorse for feeling any sense of opportunity in Alan's death to snatch Jane.
Same framing later 00:51:12 as he confronts police
00:41:00 - WS Jane coming down faire street, isolation contrasted from previous congestion
00:46:04 - WS Ceasar creeps towards Jane with a knife
*00:48:30 - WS Ceasar drops Jane. Townsfolk chase after him. Paper plants rocking back and forth.
00:54:17 - WS Francis chases Caligari, a match frame of where Ceasar had just been chased -- they walk the same path.
00:49:13 - Ceasar is exhausted and passes out
00:56:20 - WS opening the slanted door, a foreshadow to the distorted reality he's about to face regarding Caligari
00:58:18 - WS Francis and doctors scour Caligari's office for evidence. Represents Francis being treated with validity, support. Skeleton near closet in room, the way doctor moves it.
*01:01:30 - WS Cesar rolled into frame, much to the excitement of Dr. Caligari
**01:08:33 - Match frame, Caligari now exposes his identity as Cesar is rolled into his office under the new context of being a murderer. That Caligari falls to his knees and weeps gives him up, and he is put in a straight jacket.
In the first shot, Caligari is firmly in control, showing his power over these other doctors who all abide by his orders. Now things are reversed, the doctors are taking order back in solidarity.
*01:05:04 - Caligari haunted by text appearing all around him, changes his course. Requires superimposing text and actor to work with elements that are later added in post-production.
01:09:54 - Caligari dragged into confinement
01:10:17 - Caligari laid out on bed in confinement, orderlies or doctors leave and shut door, Francis standing there with an ominous look, foretelling something that's ambiguous at this point.
*01:15:03 - Reverse scenario: Francis dragged by orderlies into confinement room, followed by Caligari.
*01:14:14 - WS MASTER: Caligari arrives, dressed and groomed well, as Francis scurries behind the crazies, appearing more frightened and mad than any other. Jane off the left of frame, Cesar is floating around somewhere. The fullest view we get of the film's circumstances.
*01:14:46 - FS Francis attacks Caligari. Our reliable protagonist narrator has lost all reliability - amongst the craziest, he is the craziest, and most attention goes to restraining him.
Where have we seen this before? I know in my mind's eye it was Caligari I saw in this position, but now here I am. I feel betrayed by my own sensibility, my psyche. This shot betrays the senses of the character and audience mutually; everything we thought we knew was a lie.
This is especially shocking for a 1920s film, and led to some more poor attempts throughout cinema. The it's all in his head twist tends to be a lame, immature, student filmmaker 'thinks he's a genius' lazy out from achieving layered drama. But this is not lazy, because it doesn't try to trick us, rather uses the expressionist style to show us a world inside the mind of a maniac. Something like Shutter Island intercuts surrealist views, while maintaining a general reality. Though the film acts as an optical illusion, it is only satisfying on those two views. Caligari is less certain, it's ambiguity satisfying far more than two views. With Shutter you have to ask yourself: after two views, is the drama interesting? Or is it just a simple trick. It leans towards being a trick compared to Caligari, which seems to be concerned with something outside of the four walls.
If this is all in his imagination, it's a culmination of his fantasy, that most deeply churned hatred for the Director becoming his glorious delusion that he is this evil figure Dr. Caligari, and that all would stand to support this view.
There are clues to challenge Francis' sanity throughout the film. For one, why is he so passionately avenging the death of Alan, someone who he competed with to have Jane? Why is he so feverish in his pursuit of Caligari? I would argue that Francis may have killed Alan to begin with, which is what winded him up here. He deals with his guilt in much the same way Andrew Laeddis does in Shutter Island, concocting a fantasy and casting inmates in complementary roles. The first clue is right in what we're thinking when we see how Alan and Francis are staged while talking about how they'll stay friends no matter what happens with Jane - they hold hands and have a gay look about them, and it makes us wonder where this is going, suspecting some jealousy and possibly murderous results. Second, after Francis learns of Alan's death, there is an odd look he gives, not entirely grieving but seeming like he's pretending. This may even be the unconscious warning to the dreamer that these hero-complex feelings are false - remember this is not an image of actuality, but of recollection.
There are Jungian symbols of collective consciousness and Hero complex, but this was an era of his teacher Freud. Art at its deepest, most profound level should be reaching the collective conscious, falling into a flowing stream larger than the artist can even grasp. There was discrepancy over this ambiguous ending, and it's hard to tell which was more in touch. Let's say that somehow Caligari pulled a fast one on everyone and reversed the truth Francis was so dearly held on to, altering his appearance slightly. This would show the fear of how citizens will be tricked by the forthcoming Fascism. If it is not, and simply exactly what we see, that Francis has always been the crazy one, then it's more a PTSD result of World War I, and less aware of the forthcoming tyranny. But according to the writers, this was not supposed to be, and Robert Wiene in fact changed the ending to be more ambiguous.
German expressionist films are a plea for insanity, perhaps a reflection of the state of mind their makers reach in conceptualizing such grandly layered masterworks. Who knows what they were thinking, what tyranny they identified in themselves, what murderous attributes they realized, what voices they heard. I think of the movie M, Peter Lorre pleading about his state of mind, his torment. It's a similar characterization of Francis.
From Caligari to Hitler
Born out of the "storm of steel," mayhem of WWI. It's about the war and its consequences, about upheavals within society, the decay of values and order, about nothing remaining as it was, about valuation and identity not being valid anymore.
Is the seemingly omnipotent manipulator himself a driven character? Is he a mad scientist or curing the insane? The film is vague, blurring the lines between authority and insanity. All of society is in need of a straightjacket.
The film is a subconscious anticipation of fascism, Caligari as tyrant and society losing its sanity. The dictator is already present within the collective psyche.
Original rating: 7/10, circa May 2012.