Fig 1. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari Poster
Its impossible to describe The Cabinet of Dr Caligari as anything except a surreal horror. ''The film's equivocal narrative and visual stylization combine to create a disturbing fictional world.'' (White, unknown) Reading the plot at a basic level, the viewer will see a man named Dr Caligari apply for and present an exhibit. Within this exhibit he presents a somnambulist (named Cesare) and shows the audience how he can tell a man his fortune. Immediately after this, a man asks Cesare how long he has to live. The somnambulist tells him he has until dawn and sure enough the man is found stabbed to death in his bed the next morning. ''Caligari says that this wraith is a somnambulist; from birth he has never woken up, and this lifelong trance gives him the power to predict the future of any audience member.'' (Bradshaw, 2014)
Fig 2. Rooftop Still
The next part of the story shows more murders being committed in the same way and, in the scene that follows, the killer is shown to be the mysterious somnambulist as he goes after his next victim. He cannot however, bring it upon himself to kill her as he is captivated by her. Instead he attempts to kidnap her and flee the town (see Fig 2.) which doesn't work as he is being chased and is forced to drop her after crossing the bridge out of town. Cesare escapes the pursuing mob but soon after loses his strength and collapses in the woods.
With the kidnap victims testimony against the somnambulist, the police and townspeople are able to apprehend him and Dr Caligari. Within this simple plot line there are many questions that are raised but very few are answered. The viewer has to choose which perspective to believe, as it is put forward at points that a lot of the story could have simply been visions of an insane man.
Fig 3. Cesare, The somnambulist
Fig 4. The Town Fair
With the sets and make-up its easy to see the film through a lens of skewed perspectives. ''The sheer audacity of the film's physical and psychological conceit will haunt you forever.'' (Parkinson, 2000) The image of the town fair is a perfect example of this (See Fig 4.) as the senselessly spinning gazebo tops and the great mound of buildings in the background give the viewer a sense of madness. The violin soundtrack and strange camera angles bring forth a nightmarish quality to the scenes that happen in this space.
The film has a large amount of breathtaking imagery throughout, which of course, have strengthened its story and its ideas. Its habit of focusing in on certain characters to highlight their faces and expressions (See Fig 3.) forces the audience to really look at these characters in much greater detail than in normal scenes.
This film is proof that films that successfully push the boundaries of the cinematic experience and explore new territories, are the foundations on which later films are judged.
Wiene, R (1920) Figure 1. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari Poster. http://cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cabinet-Of-Dr.-Caligari-.jpg (Accessed on 25/09/14)
Wiene, R (1920) Figure 2. Rooftop Still. https://d2nh4f9cbhlobh.cloudfront.net/_uploads/galleri
es/26177/dr.-caligari-1.jpg (Accessed on 25/09/14)
Wiene, R (1920) Figure 3. Cesare, The somnambulist. https://38.media.tumblr.com/c228a68adc
1cc7d2b7aa225e0e1c9f1f/tumblr_nbt9j203ZJ1tdwlnso3_500.jpg (Accessed on 25/09/14)
Wiene, R (1920) Figure 4. The Town Fair. http://www.tcf.ua.edu/Classes/Jbutler/T112/Caligari
03.jpg (Accessed on 25/09/14)
White, M.B (unknown) http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Jo-Ko/Das-Kabinett-des-Dr-Caligari.html (Accessed on 25/09/14)
Bradshaw, P (2014) http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/28/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-film-review (Accessed on 25/09/14)
Parkinson, D (2000) http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/review.asp?DVDID=6268 (Accessed on 25/09/14)