The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Perception of Reality

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of the earliest films in the genre of horror and thriller and is a great representative of the German Expressionism. The film’s aesthetic style is extremely formalistic, which represents the expressionist movement well, which focused on extremes that defied reality in order to comment on the sense of unease with the current reality of the world following World War I. The film employs sets that realistically make no sense with geometrically impossible angles on structures and other bizarre images. The film also employs an unreliable narrator, which creates an even greater sense of lack of reality.  The viewer must decide what they believe or not based on the images put before them. The expressionist movement was a response to realism and director Robert Wiene clearly wanted to present artistic images that caused the viewer to question what they were seeing.

This film is paired excellently with Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave. Plato’s work describes prisoners who are bound in a cave and can only see shadows presented on a wall and nothing else. The prisoners know of no other realty and therefore do not question the truth of it. Plato uses this to describe how we all perceive reality to be all we see and experience, but there is no way of knowing if what we perceive is truly reality. This goes along with the film because Wiene uses all sorts of images such as diagonal walls, zig zagging sidewalks, and unrealistic lighting to convey that the events transpiring are not reality. The story though is believed by the narrator, who is considered insane, but the story is how he perceives reality. He perceives the director as Dr. Caligari and Cesare as a sleepwalker, who kills when commanded to. Those around him perceive reality completely differently and label the man insane, but if they all perceived it through the narrator’s mind as the viewer does and didn’t know any other reality they would believe it. No film is reality, even films that aim to be as realistic as possible are not in fact reality, but this film which is extremely formalistic deliberately portrays images that don’t resemble reality in the slightest. This film is paired perfectly with the reading from Plato because of the connection with perceptions of reality.

This image shows one set piece with a diagonal wall with strange markings on it and a triangular shaped door.


-Walker Rise

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2 Responses to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Perception of Reality

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Love how you included the concept of the unreliable narrator, which is so unique and integral to the film’s psychological effect and was new for the time. You strongly connected the film to the reading of Plato’s Allegory with lots of visual examples–good job!

    -Meg Schmit

  2. marymdalton says:

    Nicely done, Walker.

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