In the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, showed how people with disabilities were treated back in the early 20th century which went alongside with how culture dealt with people with disabilities. In the early 20th Century, the theory of social Darwinism was huge factor in society because it gave justice to why the poor were poor, but can also be given light to the shameful treatment of people with disabilities. The character Cesare, played by Conrad Veidt, was a disturbed individual who was suffering from a strong case of narcolepsy and then was taken advantage of by Dr. Caligari, played by W\erner Krauss.
With Cesare being admitted into an institution, Dr. Caligari had free reign to do as he pleased to him. In one piece of the movie, as the “heroes” of the story stumbled upon the Dr.’s diary and logs, they read the history of Cesare and the Dr. as it unfolded itself with in the pages, telling them how the Dr. can manipulate a somnambulist to bend to his will while in their sleep doing things that were either morally or immorally correct to the somnambulist. This point goes along with a passage in the “Celebrity Culture and the American Dream” by Karen Sternheimer stating “Nineteenth-century beliefs that poverty resulted from immorality were bolstered by the popularity of social Darwinism, which saw the poor as weak links in the survival chain”. (Sternheimer pg 30) With this type of thinking it empowered the Dr. to think he is above a person with a disability and has the authority to be able to manipulate another human being to bend to his will. Another sign of this social Darwinism can be seen in a blog post named “Hack #5” by Hilary Hansen stating “In this clip from Forrest Gump where Jenny takes him [Forrest] to [a] Black Panther [meeting]… he is treated poorly by the members [Black Panther] he is patted down and they think he is there to cause problems”. (Hansen) This is another way how social Darwinism is taken into effect by the beliefs a group of people, the citizens of the city where the circus is being shown at, to the reality of the state of how Cesare really is. By the end of the movie the citizens finally realize that Cesare is not a bad person but still push him to the side and are afraid of him stating not to let him tell them their future because they fear that it really does come true, instead of trying to get to know him and seeing what he is about. Social Darwinism is in full effect at this point because of their norms in their society and Cesare does not live up to their norms.
In the end, the cultural theme of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari directed by Robert Wiene and written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz was centered around how society’s Social Darwinism interaction with people with disabilities. The blatant abuse of Dr. Caligari power over Cesare while being asleep and unaware of the actions he was doing. With the Dr.’s perception of being more superior to his patient, it allowed him to take full control of Cesare making Caligari a blameless offender for some time until he was figured out.
This film is themed as a psychological horror film and is portrayed very nicely by having a very suspenseful middle in the way that you start to see the murders unfold in a way that you were thinking in one way but actually happening in another. The actual unveiling of the true criminal seemed to be a bit offset in the way that you think that Cesare is acting on his own but is actually acting as a puppet. The public response to this film was widely commemorated. It was shown all around the world and a lot of the material is still used today in order to throw off the audience. It was nominated in 2002 for Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards but sadly did not win.
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger
Director: Robert Wiene
Written by: Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz
Produced by: Rudolf Meinert, Erich Pommer
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1919
Hansen, Hilary. “Hack #5.” HACK It!, 22 Apr. 2015, hackintohistory.org/2015/04/22/hack-5-11/.
Sternheimer, Karen. Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Mobility. Routledge, 2015.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).” IMDb, IMDb.com, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0010323/.