“Born for Man’s Happiness”

Metropolis is a German silent film directed by Fritz Lang. It is about a futuristic city, which is very divided into the working class, who live underground where the factories that run the city are located, and the upper class, who live above ground in the vast city. The story follows the city’s ruler(Joh Fredersen)’s son, Freder, who falls for a working class prophet, Maria, who believes Freder is a mediator to bring together the separate classes. This film illustrates the fantasy of what the future might be like and it seems pretty accurate at points for a movie that is close to a 100 years old. The busy city with highways, human like talking robots, surveillance cameras in the work place are all things in the movie that we have today.

The film originally premiered in Berlin on January 19, 1927. The response to the film was very mixed. The film was one of the most expensive films made in Europe and was hyped up and this kind of backfired on the film because expectations were set high. Some people were appalled by the representation of the working class abandoning their children and flooding and destroying their own homes while others were disturbed by the revolt of the lower class and the representation of the upper-class being sex crazed.

The movie ended up being pulled and redone for the US release in March of 1927. The film was shortened by an hour and most of the content was pulled. Because most of the film’s impacting portions were taken out it was relatively well received by the audience in the US. However the film was quickly forgotten once sound film started to be released later that year.

From the beginning of the movie women were portrayed as vulnerable, sexualized and as objects. In one of the first scenes Freder’s helper is searching for women to please Freder. He states, “Which one of you ladies shall today have the honor of entertaining Master Freder?” and the women are told to model their bodies to see who is “good enough” for the Master. As Butler quotes, “Gender emerges as the congealed from of the sexualization of inequality between men and women…sexual hierarchy produces and consolidates gender.” The inequality between men and women define their “place” in this city. Women are considered inferior and are even said to be “born for my happiness” by men. These women who are there to “entertain” Freder are dressed in revealing costumes and are told that this is an honor to be pleasing the Master. Women are conveyed as objects that the men just choose based on looks and “use” for sexual purposes. Not once are women shown operating any of the machines or doing any sort of work besides Prostitution.

During the 1920s there were significant changes for women with the 19th amendment being passed. Women felt empowered the age of the flapper began. They dressed in more revealing clothing and went against the norm by “flouting sexual norms by dancing provocatively with men.” This is conveyed through the Maria after she in transferred  into a evil robot by a scientist named Rotwang who is working with Joh. She lures in these men and dances in her revealing fringe clothing and gets them to fight each other for her. This was also the time of the “Roaring 20’s” characterized by partying and excitement. In the film the upper class is shown having a good time and partying in a Japanese Red District inspired nightclub called Yoshiwara.

This gender hierarchy has influenced American culture till this day. Women are still not as paid as much or get the same opportunities as men. There are advertisements that oversexualize women and portray that men above women. Some men even still have this idea that they own their women and they are there to serve them. Although it is slowly getting better this is still a big issue around the world.



http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017136/ (Cast, Producer, Screenwriter)


Dr. Caligari and American Culture

The period from 1900-1930 was an exciting and experimental time in the history of cinema. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari exemplifies the spirit of this era because of how it pushed the boundaries of genre, art, and culture. Dr. Caligari is a German film, directed by Robert Wiene, starring Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt. It was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, produced by Rudolf Meinert and Erich Pommer, and released on February 26, 1920. The movie’s release was well timed, as foreign film industries had just begun to ease restrictions on the import of German films after World War I. The film was marketed extensively leading up to its release, and was met with critical and commercial success. At the time, this film was truly a cutting-edge piece of artistic cinema, especially in the young horror genre. Today, Dr. Caligari is known universally as a revolutionary work of cinema; back then, opinions were probably more divided because of how new and different the film was. However, it was still very popular and well received by critics and audiences alike.

Some of the most unique features of Dr. Caligari are the set designs, music, and cinematography. These features are what really set the film apart as having pushed the boundaries of art and film. Stylistically, the visuals are dark, twisted, and bizarre. Set pieces create radical distortions in form, dimension and scale, leaving a chaotic and unhinged appearance. 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 visual style of Dr. Caligari conveys a sense of anxiety and terror to the viewer, giving the impression of a nightmare. The boldness of these features are what elevate this film as a quintessential piece of expressionist cinema.

Using a cultural lens, I think Dr. Caligari highlights American culture’s longstanding fascination with mental illness — which is part of the reason why it was met with success here, even following WWI. In America (and the rest of the world), society has had a tenuous relationship with the concept of mental health. Throughout history, mental illness has not been viewed in a positive light. Although we’ve made huge progress in taking care of the mentally ill, we still have trouble with stigma surrounding mental illness. The deranged scientist and the maniacal serial killer have long been tropes of the horror genre. I would argue, however, that American horror has taken a special interest and favor to these types of monsters, and uniquely influenced their depictions in culture, from Scream to Shutter Island.

In Monster Theory, Cohen argues that the monster is a “harbinger of category crisis,” meaning part of its allure lies in the fact that it can’t accurately be classified (ex: Ridley Scott’s Alien having features of multiple animal classes). In Dr. Caligari, we’re faced with multiple twists at the end of the movie that blur the line between sanity and insanity, and the viewer has difficulty knowing just who or what to trust. In my view, that’s what this film communicates about American culture – that we both fear the things we don’t understand, and we are simultaneously engrossed by them. Mental illness is such a complex subject that it often defies classification in everyday life. This film centers around psychedelia and insanity, and is often referred to as the first “psychological” horror film. It’s a movie that plays with the viewer’s mind, through both style and story. In American culture, we love a good mind game; especially, it seems, when there’s death or dismemberment involved. 3_11_cvr11_caligari_ph6


Identity,the Abject, and Mr. Hyde


By: Nick Elliott

Often referenced as the first great American horror movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was well received by audiences in 1920. It was directed by John S. Robertson and featured John Barrymore as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Two movies based on the story of Dr. Jekyll were released in 1920, however only John Barrymore did the character any justice and the other film flopped. Part of the success of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is owed to World War 1 having ended only two years before it released. German expressionism spawned many great horror films, but the US Government still refused to allow many German goods to cross the border, including German art. History shaped Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde beyond just eliminating competition. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a reflection of America’s shifting cultural identity.

A key component in understanding the cultural significance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is its monster: Mr. Hyde. Abject Theory (Kristeva 1982) is more appropriate for this film than the apparently obvious Monster Theory. Mr. Hyde is a product of British culture and isn’t an American creation, so the monster isn’t as representative of American culture as his abject display is. The appearance of Mr. Hyde: the long cracked nails, crooked dirty teeth, and domed greasy head; all help to create the abject persona separate from Dr. Jekyll. Kristeva claims that the abject disturbs our distinctions between the other and self. Few works accomplish this so literally as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As the viewer sees the righteous Dr. Jekyll transformed into the grotesque Mr. Hyde, they may wonder at their own identity and the abject within them.mv5bmtg3nte0mtg3mf5bml5banbnxkftztcwntexmtmzna-_v1_sy1000_cr007861000_al_

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was released at the dawn of a new era: the roaring twenties. With the new decade came a changing American identity. The western frontier was thoroughly tamed and technological advancement changed the shape of the American city. Our involvement in global affairs in the aftermath of World War 1 was unprecedented. The insular nation of farmers our founding fathers had dreamed of was disappearing. The twenties saw women gain the right to vote and the Harlem Renaissance. Yet many Americans still clung to the puritan ideal. Prohibition and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated the gaining popularity of fundamentalist groups. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde illustrates this identity crisis. Americans resonates with a protagonist split by opposite ideologies.

The fear of changing times appears in some themes of the movie. Around the turn of the century scientific advancement yielded horrors many Americans saw on the battlefield: tanks, battleships, mustard gas, and flame throwers to name a few. Dr. Jekyll’s experiment gone wrong reflects a darker side to science that many had seen first-hand. The potion and poison that cause the transformation goes well with the prohibitionist fear of mind altering substances. Many of Hyde’s actions reflect the fears of the fundamentalists at the time:  frequenting pubs, sleeping around, attacking the elderly/wealthy. The abject Mr. Hyde was something very dreadful indeed for many Americans and, with the foil of Dr. Jekyll, reflected America’s “split personality” at the time.

The American identity crisis of the 1920’s is characterized by progressive leaps and fundamentalist resurgence. While the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde predates this era of uncertainty, its popularity demonstrates its value in American culture at the time. Through presenting an abject view of the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, this movie reflected the fear of a changing culture.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dir. John S. Robertson. Perf. John Barrymore. Famous Players-Lasy Corp., 1920.



“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0011130/&gt;.

Rosenberg, Jordan. “The Roaring Twenties.” HACK It! WordPress, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <https://hackintohistory.org/2015/03/19/essay-topic-the-roaring-twenties/&gt;.

Kristeva, Julia. “Approaching Abjection.” Oxford Literary Review 5.1-2 (1982): 125-49. Web.

The Kid (1921)

Directed by Charlie Chaplain

Release Date: January 21, 1921

Cast: Charlie Chaplain, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Carl Miller

Produced by Charlie Chaplain

Written by Charlie Chaplain

The Kid is a 1921 silent film written by, produced by, and starring Charlie Chaplain. The story demonstrates the love that an orphaned boy (Coogan) was exposed to as he was raised by a poor glazier (a window repairman played by Chaplain) in poverty, versus the affluent home he would have grown up in had he not been abandoned. The interactions of this film contradict the notion that there is a man’s way of doing things and then there is a woman’s way of doing things with no room for overlap. Judith Butler’s Gender Theory “questions the belief that certain gendered behaviors are natural, illustrating the ways that one’s learned performance of gendered behavior (what we commonly associate with femininity and masculinity) is an act of sorts, a performance, one that is imposed upon us by normative heterosexuality.”


Our very first impression of the film is its title. This title itself is ambiguous. The “kid” can be whoever, whatever, and whenever. “Kid” is not determined by sex, age, or gender. In the plot, the “kid” is at first an abandoned baby; he grows up under the name of “John.” This name is the only true indicator that the child is male. John is only five years old. As children, we are typically unsexual and non-judgmental. It is fitting that this character does not portray any overtly masculine or feminine traits. While in the context of this film he is a boy—his gender can be viewed in any light.


At the time of its release, The Kid was a shock to the public. WWI had just brainwashed America to keep women in the house, while their husbands were out protecting the nation. For the most of the rest of the 20th century, this was the norm. However, the Tramp (Chaplain) raises this adopted boy in a loving, motherly way. While he makes a living for himself by thieving around town (with the help of John), he also teaches his son to take excellent care of himself. This is a very non-customary household that the two of them live in. No women reside in their home, so no socially traditional roles exist for either. The Tramp makes sure that his child washes his face, cleans behind his ears, prepares meals, and clears up the table after supper. Both characters play an equally impoprtant role in making money, cleaning the house, and keeping each other afloat. Caring for one another in this way is done out of necessity and out of love.


One of the film’s defining cinematic scenes comes after John is taken away from the Tramp by the government. The Tramp then falls into a deep slumber in which he enters “Dreamland.” In his fantasy, everyone from his real life are angels with wings. The most gripping aspect of this scene is the sudden equality of members. A particular phrase came to mind as I watched this: “Everyone is buried in the same sized coffin.”

Death is the great equalizer.

In this dream-heaven state, the characters have rid themselves of their strife and sins. They play no more gender/sexed roles. It is a return to childhood—to innocence. This film inadvertently negates the forthcoming hundred years of gender and identity inequality. These themes of spiritualism and fantasy show how a brief a moment of peace in the mind can expand into real life. When the Tramp wakes up, he returns to a momentary world of sorrow, until he is reunited with John, who now lives with his biological actress mother. The Tramp moves in with his now wealthy son. Hopefully, this new family will continue to remain equal, and not fall into the classical structure of family dynamics.


Both before and after this film was produced, the expectation of America’s gender culture was very conformist. Men were expected to be breadwinners, and woman as submissive, loving housewives and mothers. This narrow perception has gradually changed. In retrospect, The Kid served as a stepping stone for the future of gender behavior and fluidity. It broke cultural grounds. American culture landscape was changed forever by this “picture [that brought] a smile–and perhaps, a tear” (as the tagline read.)


Links to images:







Broken Blossoms and Ethnicity

For its time, Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl, served as a revolutionary silent film that played a role in advancing and promoting race relations in the United States.  The film was released in 1919 and was produced by D. W. Griffith, who also produced the notable silent film The Birth of a Nation (3). The most significant cast members include Lillian Gish, who plays 15-year-old Lucy, Richard Barthelmess, who plays The Yellow Man, and Donald Crisp, who plays the abusive Battling Burrows (4). The film is based off the book The Chink and the Child written by Thomas Burke (7).


The film’s plot focuses on the relationship between Lucy and The Yellow Man, as she seeks refuge from Battling Burrow’s abuse. The Yellow Man was originally from China and chose to travel to London to “take the glorious message of peace to the barbarous Anglo-Saxons, sons of turmoil and strife” (3).  Upon arriving in London, he becomes addicted to opium and runs a shop in Lucy’s town. Lucy is the young, illegitimate child of the boxer, Battling Burrows. Lucy and her father have a very strained relationship, as he treats her like his servant and becomes very violent and aggressive towards Lucy after consuming alcohol. One day, when Lucy goes out shopping, she happens upon The Yellow Man’s shop. The Yellow Man takes special note of Lucy peering into his shop and develops an infatuation with her. Upon returning home, Lucy accidentally pours hot tea on Battling Burrows, which in turn send him into a fit of rage. In order to escape the abuse of his whip, Lucy seeks refuge at The Yellow Man’s shop. He acts as her caretaker and nurses her back to health, caring for her wounds and dressing her in a silk robe.

When a character in the film known as The Spying One, notices that Lucy is in The Yellow Man’s shop, he immediately alerts Battling Burrows, who grows extremely angry at the idea of his daughter with a “chink.” He barges into the store when The Yellow Man is gone and drags Lucy back home, severely abusing her upon their arrival. In one of the most pivotal and disturbing scenes of the film, Lucy escapes Burrows’ abuse by hiding in the closet. Burrows breaks down the door with an ax and throws her on the bed, whipping Lucy until she dies. After noticing that Lucy is no longer in his shop, The Yellow Man runs to her house but is too late. After finding her dead, The Yellow Man shoots and kills Battling Burrows. The Yellow Man then takes Lucy back to his house and carefully lays her at peace before killing himself next to her in solidarity.

After watching this film, I noticed that its main themes include child abuse, interracial relationships, and drug addiction. At the time of Broken Blossoms’ release, interracial marriage was illegal in the United States. D. W. Griffith’s portrayal of Lucy and The Yellow Man’s relationship was seen as brave and controversial at the time, as it was a taboo subject (6). However, Griffith never portrayed the two characters in a sexual light. Their displays of love and affection were very subtle, only kissing each other’s hands or putting their faces close together. This demonstrates that while this film worked to advance the idea of interracial relationships, Griffith chose not to cross into an overly dangerous territory by ensuring the characters refrained from any sexual acts. Overall, this production choice hints that at the time, American society was not yet ready to completely accept or witness depictions of an interracial couple.



After noticing the film’s focus on race, I chose to analyze it through an ethnic lens while applying the academic theory of Orientalism. The film places a large emphasis on The Yellow Man as the “Other” in comparison to Lucy and Battling Burrows. Although “Orientalism” by Edward Said focuses on the treatment of Islamic people in the United States, the idea of a group of people being ostracized due to their ethnicity, race, or religion is an applicable theme in the film. Said mentions in the article that “the Arab is associated either with lechery or bloodthirsty dishonesty” in films and television (8). In parallel, the Yellow Man was also stereotyped throughout Broken Blossoms.   The Yellow Man was played by a white actor and portrayed as a peaceful Buddhist, an opium addict, and a shopkeeper, therefore playing into the common stereotypes of the Chinese people. He is also often referred to as a “chink” throughout the film. Robert Eger mentions in his article “There were many Asian actors in silent films, but only one played leading roles” (6). Therefore, I believe that a white actor was chosen in order to increase the film’s popularity, however in doing so, Griffith did nothing to increase diversity in Hollywood or reject the stigma of Chinese stereotypes. Overall, while Broken Blossoms attempts to showcase acceptance towards the Chinese people, it essentially plays into Orientalism by failing to use accuracy and political correctness in The Yellow Man’s portrayal.

At the time of the film’s release, the United States was not accepting of people with an Asian ethnicity. In 1917 an Immigration Act was passed that “restricted the immigration of ‘undesirables’ from other countries” and was enacted in order to “tighten the restrictions on those entering the country, especially from the area of Asia” (9). I believe that this film was ahead of its time, however, in that it challenged racial stereotypes right before the start of the roaring 20’s. In just a few years after Broken Blossoms release, the 1920s would inspire “the production of literature and art that could challenge racial stereotypes and quell racial segregation.” Overall, despite the film’s controversial subjects, it was very popular in the United States. It earned the title of an “acclaimed masterpiece” and grossed $700,000 in the United States (1). It was also widely distributed by United Artists (4). In 1996, Broken Blossoms was even selected to be in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry (5).


While Broken Blossoms does its best to serve as a critique of the treatment of ethnic minorities, today, it is obvious that it falls short of doing so successfully. While The Yellow Man is portrayed as a gentle, peace promoting man in comparison to the violent, abusive, white man, Battling Burrows, The Yellow Man’s character is still plagued with detrimental stereotypes (7). Overall, I believe that this film is telling of American culture’s struggle to accept immigrants and those categorized as “others.” This has been a common theme throughout the history of our country and is displayed prominently in this film’s attempts at highlighting racial acceptance.

Works Cited

  1. Balio, Tino. “Project MUSE – United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950.” Project MUSE – United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
  2. Broken Blossoms. Directed by D.W. Griffith, 1919.
  3. “Broken Blossoms (1919).” Filmsite Movie Review. Filmsite, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
  4. “Broken Blossoms (1919).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
  5. D’Ooge, Craig. “Mrs. Robinson Finds a Home Librarian of Congress Names 25 Films to Film Registry.” Mrs. Robinson Finds a Home (December 30, 1996) – Library of Congress Information Bulletin. Library of Congress, 30 Dec. 1996. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
  6. Ebert, Roger. “Broken Blossoms Movie Review & Film Summary (1919) | Roger Ebert.” N.p., 23 Jan. 2000. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
  7. Lesage, Julia. “Artful Racism and Artful Rape in Broken Blossoms.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, Dec. 1981.
  8. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. Print.
  9. Tucker, David, and Jessi Creller. “U.S. Immigration Legislation: 1917 Immigration Act.” U.S. Immigration Legislation: 1917 Immigration Act. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.



A scene from the film depicting the city of Metropolis, its centerpiece is a tower where Joh Fredersen, the city’s creator, lives. The tower’s design is inspired by the Tower of Babel, which is one of the folklore and mythology references seen throughout the film.

Metropolis, Directed by Fritz Lang, is a German science fiction film originally released on January 10, 1927 in Berlin, Germany (Weimar Republic at the time). Significantly reduced versions of the film were shown in the US and UK a couple months later. It was produced by Erich Pommer and the screenplay was written by Thea Von Harbou and Fritz Lang. At the time of its release, Metropolis was praised for its visual effects which were ahead of their time, however it received mixed feelings for its story. The Nazi Party became particularly fascinated by the film because of its messages about society, leaving Fritz Lang to distance himself from the film. Other people called the film out for being too cliché or overdrawn, however it earned much praise and awards later on, particularly for the music score and restoration efforts since much of the original was lost after the premiere.

This film is set in a dystopian futuristic city in the year 2026 and follows the story of Freder, the son of wealthy Joh Fredersen, the city’s founder and the boss of all the workers who toil below the ground to keep the city functioning. Freder’s quest was to overcome the gap between the rich and poor after he fell in love with a woman named Maria because when Freder pursued her, he stumbled into the underground Worker’s City and amid the terrible conditions, he witnessed a terrible accident that killed many men. Freder was shocked by his father’s ignorance towards the workers’ suffering. Freder decided to trade places with a worker named Georgy (Worker #11811) to begin his mission.


Georgy’s hat.

Although Metropolis (and its various fragments and restorations) are German in origin, it has something to say about socio-economic division in American culture. Its writer and director was inspired to create Metropolis after he visited New York City for the first time in 1924, the era after WW1 (which ended in 1918) and before the Great Depression (which began in 1929). During this time, the United States had a booming economy and was doubling in wealth. However, as the economy prospered tremendously and industrialist magnates became richer and richer, a divide between them and the lower class workers became evident. This divide became a point of tension in society, and this tension is what Fritz Lang used to set a theme in his film: “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart”, where the “head” is Joh Fredersen, the wealthy industrialist with big dreams who is blind to the suffering of the “hands” who are the countless faceless low-wage workers who toil for hours on end and the “heart” is Freder, who represents an idealistic entity who shall resolve the tension between the two social classes. Ultimately, what I believe Metropolis is saying about American culture is that there is a problem when we have a few at the top of the ladder who live a life of blissful ignorance and have all the money: In the process of getting where they are, they have created a two-tier society where a vast amount of people struggle with a subpar life and have no voice.


The original German title card seen in the film, in English reads as “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart”.

We can find parts of the film playing into particular themes. The city is futuristic, beautiful, and immensely prosperous on the surface and in some ways exaggerated, which makes it an example of fantasy. Since the Metropolis was inspired by 1920s New York City, we can easily compare it to The Great Gatsby, which also contains a pursuit of love, the discovery of a darker side to society, and social disruption. There are also bits and pieces of religious folklore in the film, such as the inspiration from the Tower of Babel and a brief scene where Freder is confronted by the easily recognizable Seven Deadly Sins as he is pursuing Maria. In addition, we can think about abjection, who Julia Kristeva suggests as what “disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules” or “immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady”. When Freder witnesses the accident (giant machine overheating and exploding) and people suffering and dying in front of his eyes, he is deeply disturbed by it and it wakes him up to the harsh realities that exist, pushing him to take action to bridge the gap between poor and rich.


The film ends with this scene. Freder holds hands and is actually being a link between the “head” (Joh Fredersen to the right) and the “hands” (Grot the machine foreman to the left).

Film link: http://sdsu.kanopystreaming.com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/video/metropolis-0

Original movie poster: https://goo.gl/kZS6l7

Cast: Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen, Gustav Frolich as Freder, Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang the Inventor, Fritz Rasp as The Thin Man, Theodor Loos as Josephat, Erwin Biswanger as Georgy (Worker 11811), Heinrich George as Grot the Foreman, and Brigitte Helm as Maria (and her Machine Man imposter). See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017136/

Interactive H110 timeline for adding real-world historical context to the film: http://timerime.com/en/timeline/3856977/Section+1+Timeline/


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a silent, tinted black and white film that was directed by Robert Weine and released February 26, 1920 in Germany and March 19, 1921 in the Unites States. The movie was written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz and stared Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Fredrich Feher. Rudolf Meinert and Erich Pommer produced this expressionist film, which is thought to be one of the world’s first horror movies. In this film, a hypnotist utilizes a somnambulist to commit a series of murders. Post World War I, the movie portrays themes of brutal and irrational authority with Dr. Caligari identifying as the government during times of war and the somnambulist as the conditioned, brainwashed soldier. Through the lens of boundaries and borders, this film elucidates the political climate of disillusionment and the distaste for war as well as isolationism in American culture.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released during a turbulent time period of change socially, culturally, economically and internationally. World War I had recently ended, women could now legally vote in the U.S. and fashion was becoming bolder in the wake of the roaring 20’s and sexual liberation. Most noteworthy, “The film industry and Hollywood skyrocketed in the 1920s” (Rosenberg, n.p.). This opened up a medium for artists to express how they felt in the wake of World War I and their disgust for the negative impacts it had brought on America and the world. Citizens were incensed about how they were allowed to be drug into a war by their government and sought to isolate and detach themselves as a form of proactive protection.

There are differing accounts to how the film was first perceived upon its release depending on the film critic. Stephen Brockmann, Anton Kaes and Kristin Thompsan orate that it was popular not only amongst the general audience but also highly praised in the cinema arena as well (gradesaver.com). This being said, many thought it was too artistic and nuanced for its time as some critics were distraught that it did not fit neatly into their set definitions of what a film should be. Most viewers notice the odd, stylistic landscape. The characters inhabit a jagged backdrop with crazy diagonal and geometric pathways and trees with spiky leaves and grass that resembles knives. This setting is meant to set the tone for the deception and madness the film captures. While the movie was well received in France, the United States faced conflicting opinions. On one hand, film critics praised it and were enthusiastic about this new kind of film but the general public in the U.S. was not as forgiving. Many protested the films release in America in the aftermath of World War I and anti-German import sentiment. Those concerned with “foreign invasion” attempted to ban the film from its initial release in the U.S. Despite the initial backlash and uproar, many at the time considered the film a success. It was not exceptionally popular when first released but is now considered a quintessential work of German expressionism. The original work did not receive any awards but a remake in 2005 garnered a few awards at horror movie festivals (IMDb).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari also plays into the fantasy of monsters and monster theory. The somnambulist Cesare, who has lived his whole life in a sleepy trance-like state, is hypnotized to perform acts of murder by Dr. Caligari. The somnambulist’s character is first publicized at a fair to amaze citizens in the beginning of the film as many are intrigued by his anomalous state of being. This plays into Cohen’s monster theory, “The refusal to participate in the classificatory ‘order of things’ is true of monsters generally: they are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration” (Cohen, p. 6). Many are mystified and jarred by the somnambulist’s existence since it is so abnormal and extraordinary. This “monstering” can also be applied to U.S. and German relations at the time, “The monster is the abjected fragment that enables the formation of all kinds of identities- personal, national, cultural… that align themselves to imbue meaning to the Us and Them behind every cultural mode of seeing” (Cohen, p. 19-20). The U.S. decided to not only monster Germany but other countries around the globe based on cultural and ideological differences as a means to isolate and protect themselves.

In summation, this film illustrates the American culture of political climate of isolationism and disillusionment at the time. The symbolism of Dr. Caligari and the somnambulist portray the disillusionment because people felt as if they could no longer trust their governments. The isolationism is prevalent through the protests of U.S. citizens to not show The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in America. The film also orates how monster theory is not only applicable to the film but that it is mirrored in a tangible, real way. The film offers us one aspect of the multi-faceted American culture during this time.



GradeSaver. “Reception | The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” GradeSaver. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Monster Culture (Seven Theses) by Jeffery Jerome Cohen

Rosenberg, Jordan. “Essay Topic- The Roaring Twenties.” HACK It! N.p., 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.