The Use of Expressionism in Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari and Shutter Island
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The link between expressionism and horror quickly became a dominant feature in many films and continues to be prominent in contemporary films mainly due to the German expressionist masterpiece Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari. Wiene’s 1920 Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari utilized a distinctive creepiness and the uncanny throughout the film that became one the most distinctive features of externalising inner mental and emotional states of protagonists through various expressionist methods. Its revolutionary and innovative new art was heavily influenced by the German state and its populace in conjunction with their experience of war; Caligari took a clear cue from what was happening in Germany at the time. It was this film that set cinematic conventions that still apply today, heavily influencing the later Hollywood film noir genre as well as the psychological thrillers that has lead several film audiences to engage with a film, its character, its plot and anticipate its outcome, only to question whether the entire movie was a dream, a story of a crazy man, or an elaborate role play. This concept of the familiar and the strange, the reality, the illusion and the dream developed in Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari, is once again present in Scorsese’s 2010 film Shutter Island. It is laced with influences from different films of the film noir and horror genre, and many themes that are directly linked to Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari shot 90 years prior.
The majority of Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari is told through a series of flashbacks, with the scenes having expressionist-inspired set design and deformed locations to emphasize the unreliable and deluded state of mind of the storyteller. The young protagonist Francis tells the...
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... within his imaginary reality.
Overall I would argue that Shutter Island is heavily influenced by the Hollywood film noir genre and psychological thrillers, and thus indirectly by Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari. Shutter Island incorporates expressionistic elements in the underlying themes it encompasses, as well as the different symbolic features that are present, such as for example fire and water, light and dark, reality and imaginary worlds. It has taken clear cues from Caligari with similar plot twists at the end, unreliable narrators and ultimately leaving the audience guessing who is sane and who is not, what is real and what is not. The creation of their own imaginary realities allows Francis and Teddy to construct themselves in their own image and allows them to be great rather than to recognize the very fact that they are powerless, ordinary and flawed.