Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari Film Review

Fig. 1. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster.

Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) is a striking, powerful film, which uses abstract scenes to aid the narrative. This film can seem quite confusing from start to finish and you can expect to be left questioning what had taken place by the end. It takes you on a journey through the recollection of Francis, set in the town of Holstenwall at the time of the annual fair. The strange and mysterious Dr. Caligari exhibits the somnambulist Cesare, who predicts the death of Francis’s friend Alan. Murder, kidnapping and a strange plot twist follow leading the viewer slightly disorientated, unsure of what to believe. “Now lovingly polished up to 4K standards, the world’s first horror movie (1920) is as eerily beautiful as ever. Robert Wiene uses jagged sets, non-naturalistic acting and flashbacks within flashbacks to discombobulate, before delivering a twist so blindsiding it’s ripped off to this day.” (Smith, 2014).
Fig. 2. Bridge still
It becomes very noticeable just how inspirational Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is for the impact it had on modern films. Tim Burton’s work appears to be hugely impacted by Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, The abstract powerful scenes that can be seen throughout the film have translated into many of Burton’s work, an example of such is the environment of Tim Burtons The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), with its crooked and chaotic structures (see fig. 2.). “Warped in all senses, fascinating and bizarre: this is the 1920 silent movie by Robert Wiene – now re-released in cinemas – that lay down a template for today's scary movies, noirs and psychological thrillers.” (Bradshaw, 2014).

Fig. 3. Town still

It is possible that Wiene used the environment to portray a sense of insanity and chaos; it is noticeable that the environment compliments the narrative giving the viewer an understanding of the despair throughout the film (see fig. 3.). John Bleasdale states “The pointy jaggedness of the environment anticipates the dagger of the murderer when it appears, like a long fatal finger, suggesting that murder is in the weave of the story from the very beginning.” (Bleasdal, 2014), this seems to demonstrate that the environment was the main story telling asset throughout Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.
Illustration list
Wiene, R. (1920). Figure 1. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster.  (Accessed on 24/09/2014)

Wiene, R. (1920). Figure 2. Bridge still. (Accessed on 24/09/2014)
Wiene, R. (1920). Figure 3. Town still. (Accessed on 24/09/2014)

Bleasdale, J. (2014). (Accessed on 24/09/2014)
Bradshaw, P. (2014). (Accessed on 24/09/2014)
Smith, A. (2014). (Accessed on 24/09/2014)


  1. Well done Charlie! A well-written and thoughtful review :)

    Just a couple of minor points really; the section where you are talking about Tim Burton's work - it sounds as though fig 2 relates to an image from a Burton piece.

    And a very minor point... make sure that the names in your bibliography are listed in alphabetical order, so in your case, Bleasdale first, then Bradshaw and Smith.

    1. That makes complete sense, thanks for the advice.
      I completely forgot to put it in alphabetical order, I remember reading that as well. I think I put it in the order I used them. I'll make sure I remember that for next time.
      Thanks again!