Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Set Design Exposing Character Mindset

     This 1920 German Expressionist film follows the mystery behind a series of seemingly random deaths.  Dr. Caligari, a suspicious man, brings his somnambulist, Cesare, to a local fair.  Francis, the main character, after both the death of his friend and the kidnapping of his fiance, becomes suspicious of Dr. Caligari. Through the story it seems as though Dr. Caligari is an insane man, but by the end it is realized that Francis is the one who is insane.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari does a great job of exposing the mindset of the protagonist, Francis, through the set design.

     Within the movie, the city buildings always arch inward. This is paralleled to Francis' feeling like the world is closing in on him.  Francis, as we find out, is the one who is insane and trapped in the asylum, hence the slanted buildings do a great job of furthering this sense of being continuously watched over.

      Consistently the walkways go off into odd directions.  This gives us a sense of Francis' misdirection; he feels like he is lost within his mind, chasing after something hidden.  In the story, Francis is chasing after his fiance, but in actuality, he is really just lost in his muddled mind chasing after nothing.  The walkways symbolize the plight of the insane person.

      Often times there are odd lines placed sporadically upon sets. This helps show how Francis feels like he is in a delusional state.  Throughout the film, various items and forms appear to be in wonky states.  For instance, there is one scene where the mayor is sitting in his office up on a chair.  The chair that he sits on happens to be about 4 feet too high.  This example, along with many others, additionally showcase this delusion state.  Lines create a sense of false repetition, hence a sense of being delusional.

     A lot of the sets give a feeling of being cramped.  This obviously gives the feeling of Francis being trapped.  Francis is both trapped in his mind and trapped in the asylum.  These cramped sets just show that there is no escaping for Francis!

As Tim Burton once said, “One person's craziness is another person's reality.”  Except, in this case, Francis' craziness is HIS reality!


  1. Whoa, awesome post. I like how you posted pictures to prove your points. Great job!

  2. I really liked how you drew together the set design with the motives and mindsets of the characters!

  3. Great job! Really good analyzing and interpretation--your thesis is well supported by your points and the pictures are there for visual aid, nice! Also your writing is just really well structured.

  4. Excellent post - very clear what your main idea is as well as how your examples support that main idea. What is really cool is, as Nick L wrote, you used the pictures not just as images but as the examples to actually help prove your points. But you also described them and even gave a specific example (so you didn't rely on the shots alone).

    I think the only suggestion I'd have is for you to have some more specific scene examples, rather than describing generally the set designs (like the one example you do fully explain). But your organization was clear, and you have a well crafted opening and conclusion.