The conformist morale in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari     

The relationship between Caligari and Cesare in Robert Wiene’s 1920 “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is perhaps a reflection of the relationship between the Weimar republic and the German public. In 1920, proportional representation[1] meant that no one party had enough power to pass any laws. Secondly, article 48[2] meant that the president theoretically had absolute power over the government and its people.

Why does Cesare represent the German public? His rigid and erratic movements may have been a reflection of the similarly rigid German society at the time. His absolute obedience to Caligari thus represents the German society’s adherence to the president. Just as proportional representation meant that the German public could not harness any power that the system gave them, Cesare did not feasibly have any power, ultimately becoming Caligari’s pawn. Initially, this possible narrative criticism of the German society’s obedience under a supposedly democratic system suggests, at least from a Marxist interpretation, a change that was necessary. Yet the twist at the very end of the film seems to contradict this.

Caligari is shown to be the head of the asylum, locking up protagonist Alan and is drowned with applause by the bystanders. It is as if Wiene is warning the audience that to step out of line like Alan is akin to mental suicide. Despite Alan’s best efforts, Caligari will always end up on top. This powerful twist at the end is reflected in the massive power that article 48 allows the president of the Weimar republic. Even if a German party had gathered enough votes to pass a law, the president could easily pass laws to change or remove it, as the president could choose what an emergency constituted.

The conformist morale may have been common place in the context of production, but now seems like a depressing outlook on the limited power that the German society had. Perhaps worse yet was that much like Alan was under the illusion that he was uncovering more about Caligari, the German society too was under the illustion that they had some semblance of power to pass laws in the Weimar Republic

[1] Germans voting for a party that would hold seats based on how many votes they had gotten

[2] In an emergency, the president could create and pass any laws without consent from other areas of the government

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