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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Movie Review Example

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Movie Review

Robert Wiene’s 1921 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari effectively laid the groundwork for suspense and horror films of the twentieth century through the construction of a visual narrative that uses elements of unreality to demonstrate the insanity of its characters.  The manner in which the slave Cesare employs exaggerated facial expressions and large-scale, overly dramatic gestures is the physical embodiment of his unbalanced mind.  His characterization heightens the drama of the film while also compensating for the lack of dialogue.  Weine’s scenery illustrates the theater-like components that characterized German Expressionism, a genre which does not try to mimic reality.  Instead, the off-kilter angles of the streets and buildings and the painted backdrop that represents a hill is highly stylized and highly distorted.  These elements further the development of Cesare’s character while emphasizing Jane’s peril once she has been kidnapped by Dr. Caligari’s hypnotized henchman.  Nothing is what it seems in Cesare’s world, as he has been unduly influenced by the doctor.  Thus, the setting of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari must convey the dangers of criminality and the strange and unnatural inner workings of Cesare’s mind.  This vision of insanity encourages the viewer to consider how individual elements such as scenery and facial expressions work in tandem to both mislead and support the viewer’s ability to anticipate a certain kind of ending from the film.  This is subverted in the film’s conclusion when it becomes apparent that the film’s nightmarish qualities exist as such because the entire film was a fantasy that played out in the mind of an insane asylum inmate.  This ‘twist’ ending forces the viewer to reconsider everything that has come before in order to reconcile the individual characters with their initial depiction and that which occurs in the film’s conclusion.

Works Cited

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dir. Robert Wiene. Perf. Werner Kraus, Conrad Veidt, & Lil Dagover. Goldwyn Distributing Company, 1921. Film.

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