An insane hypnotist, Dr. Caligari, uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to sow terror in a small town in northern Germany. During the day, Dr. Caligari showcases Cesare at a local fair, where his subject, in a state of trance, predicts future for those gathered. However, once the night falls, Cesare turns his predictions into reality by killing the locals under Caligari's commands. During one of his nightly outings, Cesare kills a young man whose death he had foretold, and the man’s friend begins to suspect that Dr. Caligari is behind the recent killings.
In 1919, Germany had just become the Weimar Republic, the Golden Twenties were years away, and the country was trapped between its warlike and pioneering spirit. Who could then blame the filmmakers for reflecting this time of upheaval and instability in their art? The idea of cinematographic expressionism and the related depiction of the human abyss could hardly find a more favorable breeding ground. Whether examining the fragility of the human mind, fear of the unknown, or death itself, this topic has always been best reflected in the language of the visual arts. Apart from the surface confrontation with issues such as the fear of the future, insanity and death, the story comes with an ambiguous plot that is not revealed until the final act, and is a great example of the expressionist cinema. This masterpiece of German cinematography also relies on the grotesquely exaggerated set designs by Walter Reimann, Hermann Warm and Walter Röhrig, skillfully filmed by cinematographer Willy Hameister. Finally, the impact of the Decla Film production has been evident since the film’s premiere. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari helped the German cinematography gain international recognition, and set the standards for national production, and became the cornerstone for the development of the fantasy film, which is cited, parodied, and reinterpreted even day.
Robert Wiene (April 27, 1873 – July 17, 1938) was a well-known film director of the silent era of German cinema. He is particularly known for the hugely successful The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, as well as a number of other expressionist films. Wiene’s body of work includes a range of other films of varying styles. With the emergence of Nazism, Wiene, who was of Jewish descent, fled from Germany to Hungary, and then to London, where he tried to produce a sound remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He eventually moved to Paris, where he continued to make films and where he died of cancer.