Caligari was its implementation of the German Expressionist mise-en-scene. From the opening credits it’s easy to see how American critiques could have confused The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as cubist (Skal 1993)…
Later critics identified the style as being indicative of the German psyche and authoritarian regime. (Elsaesser 2000)
We initially find Caligari registering his somnambulist for the carnival. He seems somewhat out-of-place in the well-lit setting and the mise-en-scene even positions him well-below the registrar, almost as if the expressionist setting represents the established governmental authority that Caligari is attempting to replace. We next find him at the Carnival with a small group of on-lookers. Cesare is introduced from his casket with foreboding iris shots surrounding him and Caligari and you can envision the war-torn German public looking at the somnambulist as if in a mirror, ready to awake and respond to the world. The subtitles even say, “He (Cesare) knows the past and sees the future. When Alan turns up dead the next day Francis refers back to the prophecy of the somnambulist.
In one scene a lone girl is walking through the carnival looking for a man and we see Caligari draw her into the tent. The actors exhibit typical silent film style melodramatic gestures, but they take on an expressionist quality that can be construed as an authoritarian dichotomy. The girl is eventually frightened by Caligari and runs away. The scene carries little value for the overall plot and it’s as if it functions on a purely subconscious or symbolic level. Here, the older Caligari represents the established order, and the younger woman -- through her expressionistic gestures of terror -- is indicating revulsion at the hypnotic, authoritarian regime.
The final scene finds Francis, Jane and Cesare grouped together in the asylum with Francis warning his friend to not ask Cesare to tell his fortune as it will result in Cesare murdering him. Oblique lines expressionist lines extend throughout the ground. These expressionistic lines seem to ...
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