Warning: Contains Spoilers
If you were to discuss German Expressionism in film circles, it’s doubtful the conversation would go more than two minutes without someone mentioning The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). In addition to the fact that it’s one of the earliest films of the genre, it’s one of the most marked examples of German Expressionism’s propensity for focusing on the darker aspects of the human psyche. Moreover, the film utilizes what is perhaps the most extreme example of the dramatic, stylized aesthetic that became a calling card of the German Expressionist genre.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (directed by Robert Wiene) is the story of a young man named Francis, who goes with his friend Alan to a carnival. While there, a presenter named Caligari introduces a man, Cesare, who has supposedly been sleeping his entire life, but who is capable of answering any question put to him. When Alan asks what the date of his own death will be, Cesare responds, “At first dawn.” Sure enough, Alan is found dead the next morning, and what follows is a horrifying thriller in which Francis puts himself and his fiancée Jane in danger as he tries to expose Caligari’s secrets.