Film Review | Robert Wiene’s ‘Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’ (1920)


Das Cabient des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) is a silent horror film first release in Germany in 1920. The film tells a macabre story of murder and insanity from the perspective of Francis (Friedrich Feher). The film does this extremely effectively despite the lack of sound and makes a lot twists and turns story-wise that viewers wouldn’t typically expect of a movie from this period.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) has a recognisable art-style to anyone familiar with the work of Tim Burton. Considering the fact that the film is in black and white, Wiene had to make a conscious effort with shade choice while creating the characters’ outfits and sets otherwise everything would blend together, and he did an amazing job of it. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, much like other films of the era, is very much influenced by German expressionism and, because of this, the movie features a lot of "weird gaping and gurning" (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 2014). The film, as a whole, isn’t particularly bright but the dark clothing and makeup worn by the actors, especially that of Cesare (Conrad Veidt), is extremely striking and adds a great deal to the overall feeling the viewer receives during the film. The overall appearance of the characters is very similar to that of the scenery surrounding them; this is most noticeable in Cesare (Conrad Veidt) as his body is distorted, lanky and "just as askew as the sets themselves" (Clayton Dillard, Slant Magazine, 2014).

Robert Wiene’s use of jagged lines throughout the movie helps to define what is being seen. For example, any text representing Dr. Calagari (Werner Krauss) would appear jagged and manic whereas any other characters’ text would be neat in comparison. These kinds of shapes are used frequently in scenes to represent a vast number of things such as Jane’s (Lil Dagover) bedroom being very feminine and curvaceous (as does the asylum to represent a calming atmosphere for the mentally ill) whereas the fair is very pointed and misshapen to create a feeling of uneasiness and danger. The town square, used relatively frequently during the film, is purposefully very distorted, much like the fair, to give the area as a whole a very strange, creepy and unnatural feel. These very clear shapes and directions are given to each character of importance and help immensely in setting them apart from one another as well as getting an instant understanding of who/what they are in the general story arc. The set design allows the viewer to get suckered in and for the film itself to alter what the brain feels, as concurred by Roger Ebert in his review of the film; "Weine has made perfect use of settings designed by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Roehrig, settings that squeeze and turn and adjust the eye and through the eye the mentality" (Roger Ebert, 2009).


Ebert, R. (2009), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,

Bradshaw, P. (2014), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Guardian:

Dillard, C. (2014), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Slant Magazine:


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  1. Hi Michael - welcome to the world of the film review :)

    This is an excellent start; you have discussed the themes and use of shape, colour, lighting etc very well. What you need to do for your next review, is to back up your own discussion with evidence from other recognised published sources, in the form of at least 3 quotes. These quotes need to be embedded into your own writing, introduced and then unpicked, then referenced using the Harvard method of referencing - details here -

    This referencing is also used for the images, and you need to compose a bibliography and image list at the end.
    Just a final pointer - the film titles should always appear in italics.

    Looking forward to reading your next review :)