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The Birth of Caligari: National Trauma and the Impact of the Great War on German Film

Tasha Lindberg, Advisor: David Hudson

Though still in its infancy at the time of the First World War, film was a major source of entertainment in Germany and even in the economic turmoil after the war, the German film industry experienced a boom. During the war, film was used as a tool by Germany and her enemies to inspire national pride and support for war efforts, and many film historians studying this era argue that the majority of films made in Germany during and after World War One were state-sponsored and contained nationalistic propaganda, and that these films were popular with the German public; however, films containing blatant propagandistic overtones were usually met with hesitation and even films with more latent nationalist themes weren’t nearly as popular as films meant for “light-entertainment”, many of which contained allusions to psychological trauma resulting from the effects of war. By applying psychoanalytical theory and national trauma theory to close readings of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), this essay will examine the effects of national trauma in film, compare direct representations of the war with indirect reflections on the traumatic war experience, and explore the suppression of memory acted out subliminally through film.