horror film made in 1920 Germany, starring Werner Krauss as the titular mad doctor and Conrad Veidt
(the bad guy from Casablanca...
oh, and the original Joker
) as the fortune-telling sleepwalker Cesare (pronounced "cheh-ZAR-ay")
, who lives inside the cabinet.
The film deals with the dangers of hospitals in World War I when "malingering" soldiers were confined in hospitals under their manipulative doctors. Within a larger context, it also deconstructs the self-justifying narratives that were beginning to take hold in Germany and eventually led to the rise of Nazism.
This film is best-known for its extremely messed-up set design: all the angles are crooked, the shadows are painted onto the sets
, and it's all made out of paper. More notably, some sets are twisted versions of World War I battlefields.
This movie is frequently homaged by music videos (see Rob Zombie
's "Living Dead Girl", Rainbow's "Can't Let You Go" and "Otherside" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
). In 2005, it received an indie remake starring Doug Jones
, of Pans Labyrinth
fame, which digitally imposed the new actors onto the original set. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Doug Jones
also had a small role in Tim Burton
's Batman Returns
, a movie that owes a lot
to the German Expressionist style.)
In addition to being the first psychological thriller, this movie also received one of the first-ever Viral Marketing
campaigns for a movie: before its premiere, German streets were plastered with posters that read "Du mußt Caligari werden!" ("You must become Caligari!"), without telling you anything about the fact that they tied in to a movie.The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
was tremendously influential in cinematic history, as all the Trope Maker
examples below attest. It is in the public domain and may be viewed in its entirety at YouTube
. A rescored version with Progressive Rock
music by Isaac Baranoff
and Funny Aminals
can be viewed here
This movie provides examples of various tropes, and subverts most of them by the end:
- All Just a Dream: At the end of the film, the story of Francis' struggle against the murderous Caligari and Cesare turns out to be just that, a story. The real "Caligari" turns out to be the director of the asylum where Francis, Jane, and Cesare are inmates.
- And You Were There: Most of the characters turn out to have real-world counterparts hanging around the asylum. The absence of an equivalent for Allan implies that although the bulk of the film wasn't completely accurate, it wasn't a total fantasy, either.
- Art Shift: The parts that Francis is imagining have the famously psychotic set design, some of which are twisted version of battlefields in World War I.
- Bedlam House: The asylum in which Francis is revealed to be an inmate at the end of the film is only slightly less surreal than the sets in the story he is telling his fellow inmate. (The cell in which Caligari is thrown at the end of Francis' story notably re-appears as the cell in which Francis himself is thrown when he attacks "Caligari".)
- Bizarrchitecture: Good lord. It borders on Alien Geometries. There are no right angles, no straight lines, and many surfaces are covered with wild, swirling patterns.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Cesare. According to Francis, anyway.
- Cassandra Did It: Initially seems to be the case, with Cesare's prophecy about Alan's death. The twist ending casts some doubt on this, though.
- Circus of Fear: Probably the Trope Maker. That is one creepy circus.
- Cuckoo Nest: The film represents one of the most notable uses of this trope where the character being told his account of events is just a hallucination really is insane. None of Francis' version of events really happened (or at least not as he described them); they were, instead, the literal ramblings of a madman.
- Distressed Damsel: Cesare tries to kidnap Jane.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Cesare and Francis
- Empathic Environment: Very much so. Look at those sets. They're weird.
- Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: Cesare wears black makeup underneath his eyes. Notably, it's absent in the final scene where he appears as a harmless mental patient.
- Executive Meddling: A semi-benevolent example. The Twist Ending was originally the idea of a studio exec (sometimes credited as Fritz Lang himself), and it makes the movie much more interesting and uncomfortable. Apparently after screenings, a man would come out and reassure the audience that everything was going to be alright. The benevolence of the example is somewhat suspect, as Word Of God stated that the film was supposed to represent what people in power could force others to do against their will, leaving them unresponsive shells who were a slave to the whims of those in power. Many historians view the changed ending as a sign that the audiences of the time weren't comfortable with the idea of questioning authority, even if that authority was corrupt and instigated them to do horrible things - a foreboding portent of things to come. Instead, the twist makes the film about the realization of how little authority the individual has over their own actions and the dangers of blaming outsiders, which is also a pretty timely point to make in interwar Germany.
- Framing Device: Francis and the old man sitting in the courtyard.
- German Expressionism: the Trope Maker, or at least, Trope Codifier.
- Homage: It's received so many homages, it has become subject to the Weird Al Effect.
- Insane Equals Violent: Averted in the final scene, where the majority of the inmates - Cesare included - are portrayed as harmless.
- Iris Out: A common trope in the day, and used many times in this film. The one that ends the film is particularly chilling.
- Jack the Ripoff: A villager takes advantage of Cesare's killing spree to try to cast off suspicion from his own attempt.
- The Killer In Me: It's very subtly implied that Francis is the real killer.
- Kubrick Stare: The anonymous attempted murderer (played by an uncredited Rudolf Klein-Rogge, of Metropolis fame) gives one from his cell.
- Looks Like Cesare: Cesare
- Madness Mantra: "I must know everything."
- Madness Montage: Surely the Trope Maker, with the "Du mußt Caligari werden" scene described below under Room Full of Crazy.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. Caligari is initially presented as one. It's hard to tell whether he's genuinely mad or not, though.
- Mind-Control Eyes: The mind controlled Cesare reveals a particularly demented stare◊ when Dr. Caligari first wakes him up.
- Mind Screw: The sets are pure Mind Screw. In fact, if you compare actual World War I photos to some scenes, you'll find that some of the movie scenes are twisted version of WWI battlefields.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Caligari. Actually a deconstruction of this trope, since the character turns out to be a fairly harmless psychiatrist, and Francis is perceiving him as a Diabolical Mastermind.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Alan's murder resolves the love triangle of which he is a part with Jane and Francis.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: If you meet a guy who is named after one of the Borgias, don't mess with him.
- Nice Hat: Plenty, but top notch goes to the Doctor with his stovepipe.
- No Ending: "Now I can cure him." The End.
- No Name Given: Apparently Dr. Caligari renamed himself and Cesare after the legendary 17th century doctor and somnambulist he wished to emulate. We never learn what Dr. Caligari and Cesare's original names were.
- No Sneak Attacks: Averted, as Cesare's victims are killed in their sleep. His, too.
- Only Sane Man: Francis believes he is this, both in the story he tells his fellow inmate and in the actual asylum, where he tries to warn the inmates that "Caligari" is planning their doom, and that they will all die at dawn.
- The Reveal: Possibly another Trope Maker for film history.
- Roofhopping: Cesare, in probably the film's most famous scene, climbs across rooftops to Jane's window.
- Room Full of Crazy: Or Scenery Full of Crazy—Dr. Caligari hallucinates the phrase "DU MUSST CALIGARI WERDEN" (YOU MUST BE CALIGARI) appearing all over the scenery once he gets the inspiration to mimic the legendary Dr. Caligari.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Allan, murdered by Cesare to kick the plot into gear
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: It's easy to predict when someone will die if you go and kill them.
- Shadow Discretion Shot: The murder of Allan. Remember, we never actually see Cesare in that scene.
- Sleepwalking: Cesare is a somnambulist
- Surreal Horror: As has been mentioned before, this movie looks really weird.
- Talkative Loon: Francis, although we don't realize it till the end. This trope is also the final fate of poor Jane.
- They Plotted a Perfectly Good Waste: The sets don't look real at all. This is because they're not.
- Things That Go Bump in the Night: Cesare sneaks into people's windows and stabs them in the middle of the night
- Touch of the Monster: The Pietà Plagiarism on the cover is the first in film.
- Twist Ending: It's All Just a Dream and Francis is crazy. Also, supposedly the Trope Maker for the film medium.
- Unreliable Narrator: Francis' story of his and Jane's romance and their struggle against Caligari and Cesare is revealed at the end of the film to be part of his delusions.
- Viral Marketing: One of the earliest examples, with posters reading "Du mußt Caligari werden!" ("You must become Caligari!"), with no explanation of who Caligari was or why the reader must become him, plastered all over German cities in the lead-up to the film's release.
- Woman in White: Take a look at that poster up there.
- Zombie Gait: Cesare makes yet another trope.