Dr. Caligari and Plato

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari depicts German Expressionism and emphasizes how film aesthetics and images can be effective in representing emotion. Expressionism does not seek to portray the world as it is, but rather in an extreme form the elicits emotion.

Lighting, shadows, and extreme visual images are used to tell the story and depict the dark nature of the story being expressed to viewers. A clear example of the techniques used can be seen in many of the scenes within the film. In the murder scene for example, the viewers rely on the lighting and shadows on the screen to elicit the murder that has taken place. This distortion of reality and extreme depiction of the event that has taken place is a more powerful emotional experience for the viewer. These aspects seen in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari reflects in similar ideas in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” because it served as an early philosophical model that can help explain how visual dynamics can be distorted to blur the distinction between reality and images and furthermore how  films can distort  reality.

It is important to pay attention to the placement of furniture and the set in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The set itself does not portray reality, or any immutable forms. It challenges these ideas by using slanted views, lots of diagonals, and an off-centered portrayal of the scene. In the screen capture to follow, the house is seen as being above ground, held up by some unknown platform, the windows and entry door is slanted, and the house is a rather un-natural and complete distortion of a realistic house.

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The harsh and exaggerated lighting used in many of the scenes makes for a more extreme and emotionally powerful understanding of the scene. In the two screen captures below, the viewer is shown an up close shot of the character surrounded by shadows which highlight the eerie nature of the film. The following next screen capture is a shot that includes the scene in which that facial expression of the character is put into context. The  hard-black outlines and detailing gives the scene a dark and emotionally charged feeling, truly depicting the overarching horrors of the film.  These scenes, as seen through the screen captures, are not especially pleasant to watch. This can also relate back to Plato’s idealist perspective of the image, addressing that we often assume we are seeing the reality of the world, when in fact we are only seeing projections, shadows and images of reality. These projections, shadows, and images are essential to the film and are not trying to portray a realistic view. The film is extreme in how the story is conveyed, but is effective in delivering the eerie and dark nature of the story being told, while also resembling Plato’s idea about how movie goer’s in a theater can be thought of as prisoners viewing shadows that have no substance. This film in particular encompasses this idea by flashing these images on the screen, which can also be thought of as a part of the German Expressionism movement.

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This film was more difficult to watch because of the harsh and extreme nature of the images. Due to the rather eerie and blunt depiction of images, I found that the following source was helpful in interpreting aspects of the film and how certain aspects of the Expressionistic film can be interpreted and better understood. I would the film challenging and emotionally powerful, but very effective in showing German Expressionism.


Catherine Maier

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One Response to Dr. Caligari and Plato

  1. marymdalton says:

    You integrated a lot of things learned from COM 120, which is very gratifying! Nicely done.

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