Inside Caligari and The Last Laugh



Inside Caligari and The Last Laugh
The films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Last Laugh were very important films. They opened new doors to cinema. They showed the world that films don’t have to leave you feeling really good about life and the world we live in. By this I mean that the two films listed above tell the viewers about the power people posses and the misuse of that power. There are different ways to misuse power; the rich take power for granted, and in Caligari’s case, well, he madly misuses his status as the head doctor of the asylum. My basic idea for this essay is to show that power is derived from different sources; money, status, attitude, and appearance, however, that power isn’t always used for the best purposes. The films use expressionistic devices to support my thesis in ways that compare to and appose one another.
In Caligari there were several instances where expressionism was used. The set of Caligari was the first obvious expressionistic device used. The shadows on the set were perfect for the somnambulist Cesare to stalk his unsuspecting victims. He gained control of all of his prey by using the set to blend and then emerge with element of surprise. He had a dark, unrealistic look that fit in with the dark shadows that were sometimes painted onto the set. Cesare’s victims had nowhere to hide, however, he had everywhere to hide. Basically the set portrayed the atmosphere of the movie; black, warped, and fairly unrealistic. The slanted

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buildings and the painted backdrops and walkways gave the viewer the initial sense of something wrong in their midst.
The Last Laugh didn’t try to make the viewer feel awkward, but it did use it’s set to give the viewer a strong shift in emotion. At the beginning the doorman was on top of the world in his position, but after he was unable to peform his duties, he was demoted to the bathroom attendant. Here the set takes on the unrealistic form. The bathroom is sunk down into the basement almost like hell, which is what it was like for the former doorman. The doorways opened to go down the stairs to the bathroom, the stairs are in shadows, stairs in shadows are of course very odd considering the risk of injury. This also represents his loss of status and the power that goes along with it.
The symbolism in both of the films was the most powerful expressionistic device. In Caligari the symbolism was slightly different than that of The Last Laugh. Caligari used symbolism to represent Cesare. I’m reminded of one scene in which the camera falls upon shadows before Cesare kidnaps Jane. Outside Jane’s door Cesare slowly emerges from the shadows until he is fully exposed to the viewers. The shadows represent the unknown and the dangers of the unknown, which is where Cesare’s power is derived from. The audience knows nothing of the somnambulists plans for Jane and so they are held captive by their fear for the unsuspecting girl. The viewers assume Cesare will kill the girl like he has done to the others, which makes the scene where Cesare looks into Jane’s eyes that much more dramatic.
Cesare himself is symbolic of something, the power of Dr. Caligari. He is completely under the control of Caligari.

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In The Last Laugh there is even more symbolism, but it is in a direct form. At the beginning of the movie, the doorman is symbolized by his doorman’s overcoat and hat, which also symbolize his power and prestige over everyone in his apartment building. He is able to stand tall and hold on to his dignity as long as he has his coat on. However, when his coat is repossessed, all confidence is lost. Not even stealing the coat back can reinstate that. The doorman was seen without his shield on while he was in the bathroom, the shield of his image of power and dignity. In the bathroom he is slumped and beaten without his pride, his position, and his image. All of the years of prestige and power he had attained were lost in one day. That’s a harsh reality for one to endure.