Dr. Caligari and Full Metal Jacket

Much like at least a few of you, I have Professor Luckett’s Monday class on Kubrick films.  So, while reading Siegfried Kracauer’s essay, From Caligari to Hitler, I was immediately reminded of that class’s most recent viewing, Full Metal Jacket

Kracauer points out that it was the intention of Mayer and Janowitz, the Austrian co-authors of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to have their film symbolize the authoritarianism of post-war Germany.  Kracauer proceeds to point out that their movie is a foreshadowing of Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich, which is a pretty eerie conclusion.  According to Kracauer, Dr. Caligari represents the wartime government in Germany by standing for “unlimited authority that idolizes power” and “violates all human rights and values.”  This leaves the unwitting somnambulist Cesare to represent the “common man, who under the pressure of compulsory military service, is drilled to kill and be killed.” 

So, this is all disturbingly similar to what happened in Germany almost 30 years later, but that last quote reminded me of the American military’s boot camp on Paris Island in the first half of Full Metal Jacket.  Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not comparing the American military to the Nazis, even concerning the war in Vietnam.  I am merely pointing out that when there is a draft and ordinary citizens become trained killers with no fear of death, it is akin to an act of hypnosis.  Kracauer parallels Dr. Caligari’s use of hypnosis to Hitler’s manipulation of the masses, but where does it end?  Any sense of nationalism or cultural identity could then be categorized as authoritarian sensibilities forced upon the people in order to make them slaves of the government.  This is pointed out later, when Kracauer says that in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the opposite of the tyranny represented by the doctor is not freedom but rather the chaos exhibited by the expressionist artists who designed the unsettling set.  So, it turns out that without a certain amount of tyranny there is anarchy and without some anarchy there is pure tyranny.

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  1. david cooper Said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    wow Simko that was a sweet comparison. and everyone loves Kubrick!

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