Film,  History

Why The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Matters

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a German silent film released in 1920. It is widely considered to be the ultimate piece of German Expressionist cinema and the first horror film. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is also one of the first films to include a plot twist and a framed story. Expressionism was born as a movement within painting largely as a reaction to the rise of realism. The film remains salient over a hundred years after its release do to its exploration of timeless themes such as the nature of authority and responsiblity for ones own actions. Germany was largely isolated from the outside world following the World War One partly contributing to Germany to developing a very distinct film culture and style.

The visual style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is distinct with painted chaotic cityscapes. Film critic Roger Ebert described it as “a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows, staircases climbing crazy diagonals, trees with spiky leaves, grass that looks like knives”. The script was inspired by various experiences from the lives of the writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, both pacifists who became alarmed by authority and the state of Germany after their experiences with the military during World War I. Paul Wegener was a prominent actor, writer and director in German Expressionism who was an influence for Janowitz and Mayer.

Work Cited:

Barrett, Alex. “100 Years of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Why We’re Still Living in Its Shadows.” 100 Years of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Why We’Re Still Living in Its Shadows, BFI, 25 Feb. 2020,

Ebert, R. (2009, June 3). The cabinet of dr. Caligari Movie Review (1920): Roger Ebert. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari movie review (1920) | Roger Ebert. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from