The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Review:

Strange film.

Fear the somnambulist.
Fear the somnambulist.

Director: Robert Wiene

Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger, et al…

Runtime: 67 minutes

Plot (Taken from IMDb): Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist, Cesare, and his deadly predictions.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the expressionist film and the grand-daddy of all horrors along with Nosferatu. With striking set-design and costume, we are thrown into a film that is madness manifest and as such, understanding the film is fairly tricky.

Navigating the plot of Dr. Caligari isn’t that hard, but the ending is difficult to comprehend – one might argue that the confusing ending makes sense considering the nature of the film, but to me it felt a tad too weird and confusing. Indeed, although it is only 67 minutes long, it felt longer – perhaps a relic of its age.

Like a realist's nightmare.
Like a realist’s nightmare.

As a film that acts as commentator to post World War One Germany, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari really nails the paranoia of the time. The somnambulist expresses and shows the fear of the German people and indeed, is quite similar to the eerie nature of Nosferatu. Caligari employs contrasts of light and shadow, utilising distorted images of realistic settings with wonky camera-angles to really push the feelings of terror and madness – techniques that are still used to this day.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari did a lot for the filmic medium and helped it to transcend into a more art-based product that uses its settings and set-designs to enhance and promote its vision. Caligari is a wonderful film to watch and its use of sets and art is almost unparalleled.

It looks like the room where I write these reviews.
It looks like the room where I write these reviews.

However, one stumbling block for many viewers may be its age – it is as of writing 95 years old. As such, this is a silent film and I know this would put some close-minded people off of watching it. However, if you are smart enough to see past this fact, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is well worth a watch for some good ol’ film history if nothing more.

Summary:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an expressionist classic. Through its use of set-design and camerawork along with a haunting plot and costume design, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari successfully tells a creepy tale about madness and paranoia. However, I don’t think it is a film worth watching multiple times or even twice, but it is definitely a film for those with an interest in the medium to watch.

Worth it as a history lesson, and more than a good history lesson too.

84/100

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