The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Seeking an Asylum: Power in Caligari and its Relationship to the Viewer College

Seeking an Asylum: Power in Caligari and its Relationship to the Viewer

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) is an allegory of the abuses of the older generation of political authorities, who irrationally led younger generations of Germans into WWI (Nestrick 7). The film’s villain Dr. Caligari/ the Director embodies this tyrannical power over the young German population, which is captured in the mise-en-scene. However, his power extends beyond merely what appears before the camera to the control of the camera, the narrative, and the spectatorship. This absolute control runs through the entire film and eventually transforms the audience into patients of an asylum, who grasp for answers and question their own sanity.

Caligari first appears within the film walking up the stairs from the carnival in a slow and unstable gate. His white gloves are streaked with black lines, just as the audience later finds his hair to be. An iris/matte shot centers his face in a frame suggesting that he should be focused on, even within this harsh world of German expressionist sets, for it is he that controls this world. The audience gains a glimpse into the depth of Caligari’s power within the town hall. The walls of the hall are streaked with black...

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