A Somewhat Review of Little Women (2019): Rating 4

Rather than criticize things I watch and read, I want to reflect and write about my overall experiences with them using a system I’ve adopted over the years. The questions I usually ask myself are these: What did I learn? How did I feel? How did it enlighten my mind? If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to read my post about it HERE.

I know I just finished another review but I needed to write my feelings out before the words fly away from me. First, this was an incredible movie. I thought the way it was arranged was definitely different than any version I have encountered before. Rather than starting at the beginning so many of us are familiar with, it instead shifted more towards the end of the book, when Jo was very unsure of herself and her family’s future.

I won’t talk too much about the movie itself, because the story is as familiar as so many novels we have grown up with. From Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol and even Treasure Island, directors have given Little Women by Louisa Alcott new faces through each generation. I believe this is because its message on family, God and womanhood are identifiable. We all experience our own life, simple stories which in and of themselves are priceless.

In this film I thought more than any other version before, we are allowed to see Jo reflecting on her life and fighting through fresh grief towards the happiness of her childhood. She thought she knew what she wanted to be happy, but life took many unexpected turns. She and her sisters grew up: Meg married, Amy took her place as Aunt March’s companion, Beth didn’t get better and Laurie, heartbroken, left because Jo could not love him as a lover.

Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN.

I saw this movie and for the first time I felt I was Jo. I have never had her ambition and fire but I saw for the first time a girl displaced and lonely. I could feel her disappointments and grief and I was deeply moved when she allowed herself a happiness she wasn’t expecting. She never thought she would marry. In fact she hated the idea. But she accepted change. Even if it meant a life without Beth. Even if it meant learning to sacrifice for another person.

I feel like Jo March because she acknowledged her loneliness, and was even willing to go against her heart to be loved. She tried so hard to keep her world together, to earn money selling stories she didn’t herself like. But in the end, she didn’t understand how much she really just wanted the world to hear her true voice, one which loved her family and wanted so badly to bring others happiness.

Now, when I went in to see this movie today, I didn’t know I would have the experience I did. I would like to talk about it. Sorry if it is not the review you were expecting. I know this story very well, but I didn’t understand how heavy a weight I am carrying. I have had so many dreams lately, where I try to help those around me avoid dangerous situations. Sometimes they are people I don’t know. Other times they are my family. Usually no one listens. And I wake up and can’t help but feel sad.

I think it was my mother who told me I could fill the world with my love. I give that love very carefully. But just because I don’t show it often, doesn’t mean I don’t wish to show others my love, or be loved.

As I child I often was alone even among friends and family. Much of my school I did by myself, because my siblings were just a little too old or young to be there with me. I had to learn to make my own way, to know who I was, to learn to guard myself against hardship which came at me. But in the end I always had my family at home, who I knew loved me. And I loved and do love them all with all my heart. They are the most important thing to me.

But my heart is slowly breaking because I feel all of us drifting away from each other. Sometimes I want to scream, because I don’t know how we can be content living away from one another, barely writing or calling. The thing I fear the most is nothingness.

It is hardest with my elder brother. All my life I have wanted to be important to him. I tried so hard, but in the end when I call him or talk to him I wonder if he would miss me at all if I like Beth were to leave. I can’t talk to him with the confidence I could a friend. I wish I was precious to him. But I don’t feel I am. I wish I knew how to let this go, but it is a small ache I have carried with me for a long time. I just didn’t know how to put this feeling into words until now.

I have to get this out. I think I have been having so many dreams because I can’t love the way I wish I could. I feel stuck between what I feel is proper and what is reality. I try to push it down, but now I know, seeing this movie, my feelings matter.

I don’t know how to tell my friend Carly I miss her, without intruding in her married life. I feel I am losing my best friend, but I shouldn’t voice my feelings because such relationships shift and change.

But as I had all these thoughts flitting through my mind, I had a soft voice tell me, “Aubrey, remember you are loved. All these things will pass away.” I watched Jo March allow happiness roll into her life, a happiness she never would have thought could be one she wanted. And so it must be with all of us.

I thought of Sam’s speech in Lord of the Rings.

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto Sam?

That there is some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it is worth fighting for.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

This time as I pondered his words I thought, maybe perhaps the happiness I need is something which, though different, is infinitely better than what I could possibly imagine.

My Favorite Movies Since Coming Home

These are my favorite movies I have seen since May 2017. I had planned to write a review for each one, but realized I don’t have that kind of ambition. My mind moves on too fast. So, here is an easy access list. Hopefully you may discover something you haven’t seen before!

These movies don’t need to have been released in 2017 or 2018. So you may be surprised how long it took me to see certain movies. I won’t do full out reviews for each one, but just give my overall experience with them. Let’s begin!


14. The Incredibles 2 (2018)

I am a huge fan of the original movie The Incredibles (2004), and was generally pleased with this sequel. The action scenes were well paced, the animation amazing as ever, and Edna was as hilarious as I remember her! The message itself brought some very interesting questions to my mind about our freedom to protect others and be our true selves.

Now I wouldn’t say it is a perfect movie. I thought the conflict didn’t have the same resonance as the first film. But overall, I think it is great!


Favorite Quote:

[after finding out the Dicker had Tony’s mind erased after he’s seen Violet in her superhero suit]
Violet Parr: It was Dicker! You told him about Tony!
Bob Parr: Honey.
Violet Parr: You had me erased from Tony’s mind!
[Violet storms off to her room, gets her superhero suit walks back to the kitchen]
Violet Parr: I hate superheroes, and I renounce them!
[Violet throws her suit into the garbage dispenser in the sink and turns on the switch][watching in shock after Violet has tried to destroy her superhero suit]
Dashiell ‘Dash’ Parr: Is she having adolescence?


13. The Breadwinner (2017)

How to describe this film. Sometimes I think it is beneficial to see the trials and hurts of other people so as to understand suffering in places we have never been. Honestly, watching the main protagonist, Paravana’s world was the antithesis to the freedoms women in places like the United States enjoy. Examples: The freedom to learn and study in school, buy your own food, walk in our choice of clothing and to protect our family. The only way Paravana could help her family was to pretend to be a boy. That in and of itself was and is a sobering truth that left me thinking long and hard at the movie’s end. Here is my review if you are interested. CLICK HERE.

RATING: Choose not to (It didn’t seem right or relevant.)

Favorite Quote:
Parvana: [Last Lines]
Parvana: Raise your hearts, not your voice. It is rain that makes the flowers grow, not thunder.


12. Infinity War (2018)

Ho hum…. so I haven’t been the greatest Marvel fan. I definitely have not see all the movies but by some miracle I saw this one. My thoughts throughout the whole thing ranged from intrigued, saddened, enlightened and at times wistful. There was SO MUCH GOING ON, but it connected nicely at the end.

It raised very difficult moral questions and Thanos was an interesting villain because his perspective sprang from personal experience. He truly believed in his cause, to the point where he sacrificed what he loved most. It made me wonder at the human heart and its capacity for perfect evil and perfect good.


Favorite Quote:

Peter Parker: No, I’m Peter, by the way.

Dr. Strange: Dr. Strange.

Peter Parker: Oh, we’re using our made-up names. I’m Spider-Man then.


11. In This Corner of the World (2016)

Oh my heart. This movie was both beautiful and heartrending. What impresses me the more I watch Japanese animation is how well they can talk about history without becoming too consumed with the sorrow of it. This movie takes place before, during and a little after World War II and shows the war through the eyes of Japanese citizens who believed in their country, but didn’t understand the why of the war.

There was much loss, but in its end I wondered at how the world could still be beautiful as the people moved forward. I definitely recommend this movie to those who wish for a different perspective on World War II.


Favorite Quote:

Suzu: Thank you for finding me in this corner of the world.


10. Star Wars 7 and 8 (2015, 2017)

What can I say? I like Star Wars and was actually fairly impressed with both of the new films. I liked how there were more practical effects, the freshness of its characters, and the call back to the original films. Though many criticized both these for various reasons, I guess only avid fans would understand, I welcomed the call back to important themes like hope, faith, fighting for good and facing our inner fears. Also, I was glad to see Mark Hamill again as Luke. Also also, shout out for the Yoda appearance! That was my favorite part of the films!

RATING: Episode VII 4/5, Episode VIII 4/5

Favorite Quote:
Luke Skywalker: [Yoda appears as a ghost] Master Yoda.
Yoda: Young Skywalker.
Luke Skywalker: I’m ending all of this. The tree, the texts, the Jedi. I’m going to burn it all down.
Yoda: [Yoda summons lightning to burn down the tree and the Jedi texts. He laughs] Ah, Skywalker. Missed you, have I.
Luke Skywalker: So it is time for the Jedi Order to end.
Yoda: Time it is for you to look past a pile of old books, hmm?
Luke Skywalker: The sacred Jedi texts?
Yoda: Oh, read them, have you? Page-turners they were not. Yes, yes, yes. Wisdom they held, but that library contained nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess. Skywalker, still looking to the horizon. Never here, now, hmm? The need in front of your nose.
Luke Skywalker: I was weak. Unwise.
Yoda: Lost Ben Solo you did. Lose Rey we must not.
Luke Skywalker: I can’t be what she needs me to be.
Yoda: Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.


9. The Little Prince (2015)

Truly, I was surprised how much I came to love this movie. Parts of it felt cliqued at times and its ending did not surprise me, but on the other hand I found myself inevitably drawn into its simple story and portrayal of the beloved children’s classic from which it is named. It was a gentle movie and really I need those types of films the more time goes on. If you are interested in my review CLICK HERE.

RATING: 4.2/5

Favorite Quote:

The Little Prince: She was not a common rose. She was the only one of her kind in the whole universe. I remember her. I remember all of it. She is not gone. She is still here. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”


8. Black Panther (2018)

Lo and behold I found my favorite Marvel movie and by golly it is extraordinary. This movie was truly engaging because of its cry not for change only in its universe but also for those of us today. History has not treated those of African American descent very kindly and I feel in my heart there are many of them caught in a world of poverty and sorrow. Theirs is the history of many people of this world, but I also found it so inspiring to not only see the despair, but also good, kind powerful people who were not confined to that world.

It made me think, people have the power despite their history or circumstances, race or ethnicity to live their lives empowered and with their heads held high.

T’Challa has become one of my favorite characters in film because he was not only willing to be a just, kind and forgiving king but he also admitted his mistakes and changed. He saw from other’s perspectives and acted. All in all, I enjoyed this movie and am glad it received an Oscar nomination.

RATING: 4.5/5

Favorite Quote:
T’Challa: Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.


7. A Silent Voice (2016)

(Sorry the poster is in a different language) I loved this movie for its message on love and forgiveness. It is too complicated to explain all here, but suffice it to say two characters who, estranged by bullying and misunderstandings find in each other the will to keep living . It made me wonder how much I don’t know about others’ lives, the horrors they carry. It also helped me understand people can change and do amazing things in goodness and kindness.

If you want to cry, watch this movie.


Favorite Quote:

“Friendship is something …that defies both words and logic.”


6. The Greatest Showman (2017)

Oh gosh I am a sucker for good music. And truly, the soundtrack for this movie has become one of my favorites. Every song has such beautiful lyrics and energy! I liked how this movie centered on family and seeing the world out of the confines of prejudice. Was the original Barnum the man showed in the movie? Hmmm…. probably not. ( Hmmm hmm not at all really.) But I was really too grateful the movie promoted family, acceptance, individual worth, love and fidelity to notice the historical inaccuracies. I think in a few years, critics will think more highly of it. Not that it matters really.


Favorite Quote:
James Gordon Bennett: I never liked your show, but I always thought the people did
P.T. Barnum: They did. They do!
James Gordon Bennett: Putting people of all Shapes, Sizes, Colours. Putting them on stage together and presenting them as equals, another critic might have even called it a celebration of humanity.
P.T. Barnum: I would’ve liked that.

robin 9

5. Christopher Robin (2018)

This movie was so simple and heart warming. Rather than portraying a father and husband who had become callous and inattentive in his adulthood, it showed a boy grown into a man who felt he must put behind his childhood to become the “adult” people expected him to be. His father died, he fought in World War II and lost himself along the way.

I won’t spoil it, but I just loved how the kind boy, lost to life’s hardships, was found by his dearest friend. It was as though a veil was lifted from his mind and the sunshine could finally come through. If you are interested in my review, CLICK HERE.

RATING: Hmm…I didn’t feel like it.

Favorite Quote:
Christopher Robin: I’m not the person I used to be.
Winnie The Pooh: You saved us. You’re a hero.
Christopher Robin: I’m not a hero, Pooh. The fact is, I’m lost.
Winnie The Pooh: But I found you.

4. Fantastic Beasts and The Crimes of Grindewald (2016, 2018)

So if you thought I liked Star Wars, it is nothing compared to how much I love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Honestly, I liked these two new films set in 1920’s America and Great Britain more than the original Harry Potter Films. It is because I feel they really are from Rowling herself. When I watched Fantastic Beasts for the first time, I wondered why I liked it so much. I read up on it and realized Rowling wrote the screen play for it. I thought, “Ah, that makes sense then.”

Rowling has a way of portraying themes such as discrimination, abuse, manipulation and deep regret in ways I truly appreciate. She doesn’t shy from heavy themes but makes it clear that yes there is evil in this world, but also that it can be counteracted by the kindest and unlikeliest people. That being said, Newt has also, like T’Challa, become one of my favorite characters. He was compassionate, kind and an overall genuine soul which has been missing from our entertainment. Kindness is not weakness.

Anyway, I love these movies and…. really want to know what happens.

RATING: Fantastic Beasts- 4.5/5, Crimes of Grindewald- 4/5

Favorite Quote(s):

1. Jacob Kowalski: Uh, Mr. Scamander?
Newt Scamander: Oh, call me Newt.
Jacob Kowalski: Newt. I don’t think I’m dreaming.
Newt Scamander: [mildly amused] What gave it away?
Jacob Kowalski: I ain’t got the brains to make this up.

2. Newt Scamander: No, I’m here to… You know, your eyes really are…
Tina Goldstein: Are what?
Newt Scamander: I’m not supposed to say. I got this picture of you from the paper, but it’s interesting because your eyes in newsprint. See, in reality they have this effect in them, Tina. It’s like fire in water, in dark water. I’ve only ever seen that… I’ve only ever seen that in…
Tina Goldstein: Salamanders?

Peanuts (1)

3. The Peanuts Movie (2015)

Now we come to the top contenders of my affection! First, there is this remake of Charles Schultz’s comic strip. I missed this film’s release because I went to Russia on my mission and I thought of it often. I asked my mom what she thought of it and was elated but sad when she said it was great. (The sadness came because I couldn’t watch it yet.)

Anyway, long story short I watched it and just loved it in all its Charlie Brown and company glory! The message to see ourselves for the goodness we do and to put honesty, family and generosity before popularity really warmed my heart. Also, I was so glad he could finally after more than 50 years talk to the little red-haired girl.

Also also, a special shout out for the animation! Despite it being 3D I really liked its look and feel. It really seemed like one of Schultz’s comic strips and stayed true to his style.

RATING: 5/5 (Cough, I am biased)

Favorite Quote:
Little Red-Haired Girl: Oh, hi, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown: You remembered my name?
Little Red-Haired Girl: Of course I did.
Charlie Brown: Before you leave, there’s something I really need to know. Why, out of all the kids in our class, would you want to be partners with me?
Little Red-Haired Girl: That’s easy. It’s because I’ve seen the type of person you are.
Charlie Brown: An insecure, wishy-washy failure?
Little Red-Haired Girl: That’s not who you are at all. I like the compassion you showed for your sister at the talent show. The honesty you had at the assembly. And at the dance, you were brave and funny. And what you did for me, doing the book report while I was away, was so sweet of you. So when I look at you, I don’t see a failure at all. You have all the qualities I admire.


2. Coco (2017)

I think my experience with this movie will reflect that of many others. When I saw this movie in theaters I had just come home from visiting my grandma Engler in New York. She was 93 and I had not seen her for fifteen years because my family lived in Arizona and New Mexico. I had gone to New York with a deep feeling, which I now understand as familial love and bonding.

Anyway, when I left her in New York I felt in my heart it would be the last time I would see her in this life. She did not die until May 2018, but I knew it was coming. Seeing this movie I finally understood what is most important in this life. The movie was not about Miguel becoming a musician or finding his way home. It was about the missing picture of his great great grandfather, whose family was forgetting him.

Truly, this was the best pixar film I have seen since Up (2009). Also, the animation was SO BEAUTIFUL! If I made a new top beautifully animated films this would definitely be in the top 10.


Favorite Quote:
Ernesto de la Cruz: [to Mamá Imelda] Don’t I know you?
Mamá Imelda: [Smacks Ernesto with her shoe] That’s for murdering the love of my life!
Ernesto de la Cruz: [Confused] Who the…?
Héctor: She’s talking about me!

Héctor: I am the love of your life?
Mamá Imelda: I don’t know, I am still angry at you!


1.Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

It was hard choosing between this and Coco, and I might change my mind later, but for now this is my number one. My mother told me about this movie while I was still on my mission. Her words were basically, “I saw this really interesting animated film. It was kind of strange. I think you would like it.” Laika animation studios really outdid themselves when they did this movie.

The animation is stunning! (I would also now put this in my top most beautifully animated films list.) Really, compared to other stop-motion animated films I have seen these last few years, the beauty and quality of this movie’s action scenes, touching moments and story telling ability just astounded me!

All the characters were very well rounded, complex and endearing. Even the villain, who Kubo “defeats” in a truly Hayao Miyazaki fashion, really drew me in. I just can’t get over how much I loved this movie! I really want to dissect it and understand how it works story and animation wise! That might be my next project. . .

Anyway! That is my beautiful list! Hopefully, I have more films to add as this year goes on!


Favorite Quote:
(After seeing golden herrings fly overhead)
Monkey- It’s believed that they carry the souls of the departed. Carrying them over to where ever they need to go.
Beetle- What are they singing?
Monkey- Many say, the songs about what happens when we die, how we don’t just disappear. Like Kubo’s paper, we shift, we transform, so we can continue our story in another place. The end of one story is merely the beginning of another.

Pumpkin Season! Day 2

So today will be another recommendation but this time it will be a movie/book!

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. (Neil Gaiman, Coraline (2002) )

So, one of my favorite movies is Coraline (2009) based on Neil Gaiman’s 2002 book by the same name . When it came out I didn’t watch it because I was somewhat starstruck with The Princess and the Frog (2009). But I bought it for 5 dollars on a whim and discovered it is definitely my type of movie. Now I watch it all the time!

Reading the book actually came after the movie on a somewhat stormy day. Honestly that is the best time to read creepy children’s books! I finished it in a day and have since enjoyed it dozens of times on similar days. You know, the kind of days where we want to see our heroines and heros conquer evil!

I would say the best aspect of this story in either medium is the fact that Coraline had control of her fate. The other mother could not force her to relinquish her soul. She could only coerce, tantalize and trick her to give up her life. Plus, in the end Coraline defeated the other mother and freed her other victims.

It really is a story about courage and triumphing over the evils in our lives. I highly recommend this story, book or movie, especially to those who are looking for something truly engaging visually on screen and paper.

DAY 3- Month of Movie Quotes: Cinderella (2015)

King: Oh, you’ve come. Good.
Kit: Oh, Father. Don’t go.
King: I must. You needn’t be alone. Take a bride. The Princess Chelina. What if I commanded you to do so?
Kit: I love and respect you, but I will not. I believe that we need not look outside of our borders for strength or guidance. What we need is right before us. And we need only have courage and be kind to see it.
King: Just so. You’ve become your own man. Good. And perhaps, in the little time left to me, I can become the father you deserve. You must not marry for advantage. You must marry for love. Find that girl. Find her. The one they’re all talking about. The forgetful one who loses her shoes…loses her shoes.
King: Oh, be cheerful, boy.
Kit: Thank you, Father.
King: Thank you, Kit. I love you, son.
Kit: I love you, Father.

When I watched Cinderella in theaters, I loved the relationships shared between parents and children. I especially loved the scene where this quote takes place. I thought how much his father loved him, to tell him to marry for love and make his own choices.

I liked the romance in this movie, but this was by far my favorite scene because it spoke of real love only a family can share.

I also loved how human it made the Prince feel as he cried by his father’s bedside. I would love to see more loving relationships between fathers and sons in stories like this one.

DAY 2-Month of Movie Quotes: Sabrina (1995)

Linus Larrabee: Listen, I work in the real world with real responsibilities.

Sabrina: I know you work in the real world and you’re very good at it. But that’s work. Where do you live, Linus?

I watched this movie again the other day and reflected on how so often love comes unexpectedly. In fact, much of the time it comes when we least expect it. For those who have not seen it, I would recommend it if you love subtle romantic films.

This quote has always reminded me how there are so many in the world who are not living in it. I feel there is so much we can be, do and dream. Yet, I wonder if too often we get caught in the “real world” and forget to experience life.

For the characters, I believe Sabrina told Linus this out of experience: because she had lived for so long chasing an illusionary love and not living for herself. Linus himself had always worked and that became his life. But I think it is tragic if we don’t allow ourselves to live outside the bonds of work for a time.

The Films I have Finally Seen! 

It has been awhile hasn’t it?

So, I have been gone for a year and a half. For those who don’t know, I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints in Россия. I did not watch tv really at all, which was kind of a relief. Anyway, the relief period is now over and, being an avid film lover, I was excited to see what has come out these last two years. 

I would go from my least favorites to my favorites in a series of posts throughout this week but… I am still catching up and have not watched all I intended. Some of them are tied so that might get messy too. So, we will see how it goes! I also want to have as positive reviews as possible. I am excited to start writing again and it will be good practice for me. So, ….

Мы начинаем! Давете! LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!

ハウルの動く城, Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle), 2004


Based on the extremely popular {and HILARIOUS} fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones in 1986, Howl’s Moving Castle garnered praise from film critics world wide as one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most colorful and enjoyable animated films. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 as best animated film and has since won numerous other awards including the Osella Award for Technical Achievement at the 61st Venice Film Festival. Film Critic Peter Travers praised it stating, “There’s a word for the kind of comic, dramatic, romantic, transporting visions Miyazaki achieves in Howl’s: bliss.” Despite all the wonderful things said about it, there were many people who see this film as Miyazaki’s weakest work.

This was the second Hayao Miyazaki film I ever watched. It is because of it that I became interested in his other works. In fact I would often tell people, if they asked, that it was my absolute favorite film. It seems strange that I am only writing my review for it now. I guess I have put it off because of doubts I had about its genuine mastery {I blame Roger Ebert for that}.

Recently however I watched it again, paying special attention to its animation and story, and bought the art book, which contains myriads of original story boards and concept sketches. In it, I came across a reflection written by the supervising animator Kitaro Kosaka, who said something I will never forget:

Although I was impressed by his approach to characters, what really amazed me was his incredible talent as a filmmaker. This film differs from his previous films insofar as the story assumes the perspective of the characters. We did our best to delete an explicit omniscient point of view or explanatory scenes. That’s part of the film’s appeal. The story is packed with stimulating scenes, and watching the story unfold is an enthralling experience for both adults and children. I really thought, ‘This is amazing.’

Despite deep criticisms against it, I took a step back and examined it from an untainted perspective. I recalled the feelings I had when I watched it for the first time when I was seventeen. Starry-eyed and taken aback I had thought to myself “This is magic.” To my relief, I still believe it.


The story begins in a quaint hat shop where Sophie Hatter works as one of the seamstresses. As the other girls giggle about May Day they spot Howl’s castle moving through the hills. Uninterested, Sophie leaves separately from the others and embarks into town to meet her sister Lettie. However, when she moves to escape the crowds she is stopped by two soldiers who try to bully her into having a drink with them. Suddenly an elegantly dressed blond man steps beside her and playfully removes the soldiers, before assuming the role as her escort. While walking with him, they are pursued by top hatted blob men {Yes blob men} who work for the witch of the waste. They evade them as Howl thrusts them into the air and magically walks her to the top balcony of Lettie’s bakery. This encounter, catches the attention of the witch of the waste, who visits Sophie in her hat shop and changes her into an old woman, who can’t tell anyone she is cursed. From there she leaves her dull life and becomes a cleaning lady in Howl’s castle.

I would rather not spoil this movie for anyone who hasn’t had the privilege of watching it. The plot, though its seems vague in the beginning, takes on a new clarity by the end of the film. In order to fully grasp its story, it is necessary to carefully watch each of the characters, because it is told solely from imagery.

There are no long monologues or dramatic discoveries, rather it is as though we are plunged headfirst into their memories. Because the film was organized this way, the character’s physical and psychological changes seem so natural and flow so easily it is hard to even notice they happen. By the end of the film, they are completely different people, not because we finally understand them but because they really have changed exponentially either out of their love for another person or by dramatic events that force them to switch sides.


download (4)

Knowing the overall film making process, especially for animated films, completely changes your perspective of Howl’s Moving Castle. This is especially true in the conception of the film’s most dynamic character, the moving castle. Before, I had simply been fascinated by the mysterious way the castle moved. In fact, the first time I saw it I was torn between two conflicting questions: “What on earth is that thing?” and “How did they do it (meaning how did they make it move so intricately)?”

Now, it is as if the puzzle pieces have finally come together. In order to make the castle’s incredible movements possible, animators relied on CG effects which effectively put together all the painted pieces of the castle and brought it to life. For even those who don’t like this movie, it is impossible to not stand in awe of such a beautiful animated achievement.

They used similar tactics in scenes like the black hole that spread underneath Sophie as she looked on at a younger Howl, and in sweeping background movements as the characters ran or when they were in moving vehicles.

Myazaki-san designed the castle himself and has a knack for creating magical elements in his films in ways that other animators and designers couldn’t possibly do themselves. Who else would have conceived such a perplexing character as the moving castle?

It isn’t strange for essentially non-living buildings or places to become main characters in such stories. For example, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame though the cathedral technically can’t be considered a living, breathing thing it is referred to as a real person (specifically a motherly figure). Often the mood of the cathedral directly reflected those of the characters or intense events such as the execution of the gypsy Esmeralda when it hovered over the pyre angrily, red and menacing because of the fires.

Though such a viewpoint is not as dramatic in Howl’s Moving Castle, there are still times where it seems like the almost amphibious castle has a life of its own. Naturally, this is because it has a lifelike structure. It moves on four clawed legs and even has a mouth and eyes.


As in all Miyazaki-san’s films, his other characters are as simple as they are complex. Never in any of his works will you ever see copy cut-out’s or unoriginal stereotypes. Describing and understanding the characters is almost impossible even after one sees the movie many times. As I have said in my other reviews of his movies, this is because he doesn’t create characters. It is almost as if he is telling stories about real people.


Sophie and Howl Howls Moving Castle Picture

Sophie in the beginning comes across as detached, sullen and shy, overshadowed by her flamboyant mother and pretty younger sister Lettie. This makes her in no way cruel or unlikable. It is actually quite interesting to see how much she opened up and relaxed when it was only expected that she was plain and un-extraordinary. If anything, Howl’s Moving Castle is a testament that a person’s self-perception not only changes how others see them but who they become. In other words, because she believed that she was plain, boring and of little merit it reflected on how she and others saw and treated her.

What is intriguing is how much she changed when she no longer focused solely on herself. I know this sounds corny, but it is because she fell in love with Howl that she overcame her curse. This was a curse that she had put on herself. The author Catherynne M. Valente put it the best in her book The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (2013). In quoting the Undercamel from Pluto, her pawless yeti stated, “What others call you, you become. It’s a terrible magic that everyone can do -so do it. Call yourself what you wish to become.” No one really talked about how or when she suddenly became young again. It simply happened and her closest friends accepted the change as if she had only switched outfits. Perhaps this was because they had seen beyond her physical appearance at the person hidden deep inside her.



Of all the characters, Howl is the one who changes the most subtlety. His soft, nonchalant personality doesn’t dramatically shift. Unlike in Jones’ original novel, he is never considered by anyone to really be evil or terrible. Yes it is said in passing, but it isn’t taken seriously. Because the audience first sees him as Sophie’s mysterious, gallant rescuer he is portrayed as the exact opposite. His motives don’t come across as selfish or laden with ulterior motives, rather the best way to describe him is easygoing or carefree. He lives within the bounds of what is convenient and detaches himself from anything troublesome.

Like Sophie, it is obvious that he is too focused on himself and the way he looks. He also masks himself to escape from his problems, except he does it through fancy, bright styles rather than dowdy cloths. It isn’t until the fateful (and side splitting) bathroom disaster when his world comes crumbling down {basically his hair turned orange instead of the usual beautiful blond color he liked and he threw a tantrum}.

Afterwards, the facade is gone and he lets his barrier down. The past terrified him both because of the mistakes he had made with people like Suliman and the Witch of the Waste and also the fateful decision he had made in his youth.

Yet, I think that while watching Sophie he finally let go of his fear. He even told Sophie “I am tired of running away Sophie, and now I finally have something I want to protect. It’s you.” In his own way I think that he is an admirable person. He fought against the cruel war and obviously cared about people. All in all, I think of all of Miyazaki-san’s heroes he is the most simple and unassuming.

I wanted to mention the other characters briefly, though they aren’t as important to the main story-line. The main “villian” is obviously the Witch of the Waste. In this film however the witch isn’t killed or banished, rather she loses her magic and becomes a part of their family.Naturally, because American audiences have absorbed stereotypical villian vs. heroe movies for so long it is expected that there be a flashy battle where good triumphs over evil. Miyazaki-san doesn’t create movies with this mentality. The supervising animator Akihiko Yamashita put it this way:

… if I had directed Howl’s Moving Castle, I think it would have been a war between wizards where Howl would ward off the Witch of the Waste. But Miyazaki wasn’t interested in portraying the witch as evil. His open-minded approach was very inspiring.

His approach doesn’t surprise me, because in all his movies I have only ever seen one true blue villain and that was Colonel Moskow from Laputa Castle in the Sky. I think this approach in film-making is needed. True, there are some stories that NEED villains like those in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) or Pinocchio (1940) but other times, most of the time, it isn’t that easy or wise to label people as evil or good based only on what we see.

The other characters like Markl and Calcifer add a needed charm and buoyancy to the plot and contribute to the plot’s simple magic without being overbearing. They change too by the end of the film but their’s comes more as a result of Howl and Sophie’s transformation.



Howl and Sophie’s romance is definitely less dramatic than it is in the book. Jones’ original characters constantly yelled at each other and threw tantrums. At one point, Sophie in a jealous fit poisons a vase of flowers and then goes on a rampage outside of their mansion with a jug of weed killer. This love story in the film adaptation is definitely more delicate.

Like Sophie’s transformation, their love story unfolded gracefully and developed almost like a flower opening after a rain shower. By the time Howl takes Sophie on their walk to his childhood cottage, it seems only natural when they walk arm in arm like young lovers through the fields of flowers. It is even less shocking when Howl cries, after Sophie harshly calls herself dull and only good for cleaning, “Sophie, Sophie you’re beautiful” and sadly watches as she shrivels back into an old woman.

There is no reason to worry about their future or whether they will be together, because they suit one another so naturally. They both have quiet personalities and aren’t forced to change for the other person. Rather, they change because of the other person without even realizing it themselves.

There hasn’t been nor will there ever be a film like this one. Personally, I think that of all his films it is the brightest and it flows with magic only imagined through dreams and childhood fantasies. Laden within this fantastic world are also subtle lessons against war, self esteem and like in many of his other films the power of true love. This kind of love isn’t very dramatic but it is powerful. Why? Because it is real. It is impossible to question its authenticity because it seems so natural and it happens so gradually. In other words, it develops and embeds itself rather than being foolishly grasped or thrust away while the characters are frantically running from yet towards each other.

I find it so strange that so few take animation seriously when it has become one of the most powerful storytelling arts. Only through animation could they have brilliantly told a story such as this one. That is the magic of Miyazaki-san’s true animated masterpieces. He opens for worldwide audiences a window into the spectacular without resorting to petty plots or moral challenging scenes. They are beautifully simplistic and unforgettable.


I can’t go against the wonderful feeling I have had since I first watched it five or six years ago. This will forever stay one of my favorite films and I believe in its own way that it is a masterpiece. Take it as you will, but remember that sometimes the most brilliant of stories don’t need to shout or scream. Some just unfold like a dream.



Sophie: Please. Howl. I’m sure I could be of help to you. {PAUSE} Even though I’m not pretty. . . {PAUSE} and all I’m good at is cleaning.

Howl: Sophie! Sophie you’re beautiful!

{Sophie becomes an old woman again}

Sophie: Well, the nice thing about being old is that you’ve got nothing left to lose.

SECOND FAVORITE: {I couldn’t resist}

[Howl comes running out of the bathroom, screaming. His hair is now orange]
Howl: Sophie! You, you sabotaged me! Look! Look at what you’ve done to my hair! Look!
Old Sophie: What a pretty color.
Howl: It’s hideous! You completely ruined my magic potions in the bathroom!
Old Sophie: I just organized things, Howl. Nothing’s ruined.
Howl: Wrong! Wrong! I specifically ordered you not to get carried away!

Howl: Now I’m repulsive.

[slumps into a chair]
Howl: I can’t live like this.

[starts sobbing, head in hands]
Old Sophie: Come on, it’s not that bad.

[Howl’s hair changes color to purple, then black]
Old Sophie: You should look at it now, its shade is even better.
Howl: [inconsolable] I give up. I see not point in living if I can’t be beautiful.

Senior Thesis Part 3: Nosferatu (1922)


nosferatu1   Nosferatu2 (Original Promotional Poster, 1922: Murnau) 

Trained originally as an art historian, Murnau, considered by many like Lotte Eisner as Germany’s greatest film director, made only 22 films throughout his whole film career, a third of them lost like The Head of Janus (1920), a remake of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Though he did not direct nearly as many films as other German directors, his films remain some of the greatest silent film classics. Through Nosferatu, Murnau took Bram Stoker’s Dracula and used nature, which served as an eerie reflection of the melancholy atmosphere pervading Interwar Germany, to exemplify dark, hidden truths. Regarded by many as his most memorable film, it did not need Caligari’s effects or articulated sets. It is as effective today as its first appearance, not because it is terrifying but because it leaves with its viewers, as the film critic Béla Balázs put it, “a chilly draft from doomsday”.[1] With techniques and images that would be admired worldwide, Murnau “created the most overwhelming and poignant images in the whole German cinema”, intrinsically captivating and altogether haunting.[2]

Nosferatu3 (Hutter and Ellen’s house, filmed in Wismar, Germany)

Nosferatu opens in a small, pleasant village Bremen where his boss Knock, a secret follower of the vampire, commissions a young man Hutter to go to the castle of Count Orlac, Nosferatu, to negotiate a housing contract in one of the broken, abandoned buildings. Despite all the warnings he receives from villagers and his abandonment by his coach and companions, he stays at Count Orlac’s castle and is almost killed before he escapes and rushes home to save his wife Ellen. However, Count Orlac travels by ship to his village, kills all on board and wreaks havoc in the once happy town. Almost like a plague, Nosferatu claims countless victims in the village and its residents give in to despair. When Ellen sacrifices herself to Count Orlac, his own lust for blood defeats him and through her death she restores peace to the town.


(Max Shreck as Nosferatu; Bela Lugosi as Dracula) 

The silent horror of actor Max Shreck’s Nosferatu does not share Bela Lugosi’s dramatic flair as Count Dracula. However, Shreck’s rendition provided a more poignant aftertaste.  As film critic Roger Ebert observed, “It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us. It shows not that vampires can jump out of shadows, but that evil can grow there, nourished on death.”[3] These elements of horror slowly sink in, through scenes with the phantom carriage, the haunted ship carrying Nosferatu’s body, and most importantly Nosferatu’s assured steady approach. As Eisner described it, “the hideous form of the vampire (approached) with exasperating slowness, moving with extreme depth” both awe-inspiring and an altogether terrifying figure.[4]

nosferatu5 (Ellen by the Sea) nosferatu6 (Forest outside Count Orlac’s castle) 

Murnau incorporated Expressionist styles through natural scenes to evoke terror. Most German Expressionist filmmakers, like Fritz Lang and Paul Leni, rejected nature and real life sets in favor of artificial ones. An oddity, Murnau nonetheless used real locations to great effect. Drawn to the natural landscapes he had enjoyed throughout his life, he perceived the many fine images nature had to offer and employed it almost as another character, affected as much as the people by Nosferatu’s company. By taking backgrounds like the forest outside of Orlac’s castle, the street in Hutter’s village, and the ocean and distorting them through lighting he portrayed the corruption of pure and beautiful places, as though a dark, shadowed world had overtaken them, breeding fear and death.

nosferatu7 (Nosferatu emerges from ship’s hull) 

In order to evoke the needed themes from his sets, Murnau employed camera techniques that would capture nature’s dark underbelly through shadows. He employed shadows as lifelike elements of the film to reveal the dark world that lingered alongside perceived reality. These shadows accentuated the story’s horror, especially when showing the subtle changes that came with Nosferatu’s appearances. Like in his later film Tabu (1931), “Murnau was to use the shadow as an element of foreboding”.[5] In Nosferatu, such shadows meant that death was imminent. For example, the closer Hutter came to Count Orlac’s castle, the darker the roads became and when Nosferatu’s phantom carriage came to take him to the castle, it seemed as though even the forest’s shadows elongated in reaction to the monster’s presence.

nosferatu8 (Shadow of Nosferatu almost overtakes Hutter) 

The chilling words Hutter read from a small vampire novel, “Beware that his shadowe weigeth not upon you like a terrible nightmare”, warned him too late of Count Orlac’s true nature.[6] Soon after, its darkness a replication of his true nature, Nosferatu’s shadow almost overcame Hutter, who lay paralyzed by fear, until Ellen intervened and drove the monster away. Just as Cesare’s shadow portrayed Alfred’s murder, so did Nosferatu’s presence come coupled with his shadow’s distorted figure.

nosferatu10 (Nosferatu creeps to Ellen’s room)

Like in Caligari, all of the character’s movements were ripe with meaning. Murnau relied on embellished gestures and facial expressions, similar in other German Expressionist films, to emphasize most of his character’s emotions. For example, when Hutter opened his bedroom door and saw Nosferatu standing feet away, he forcefully closed the door and a look of complete horror slowly and elaborately spread over his face, tension and fear evident even from his eyes. As for Nosferatu’s design, because he essentially represents pestilence and death, his more animal like appearance provided such character that he did not need elaborated gestures or horrible grimaces. This allowed the natural decrepit horror of his presence speak for itself, advocating the other character’s extreme, negative emotions and their erratic movements.

nosferatu9 (Hutter opens bedroom door to corridor) 

Unlike in many earlier silent films like The Great Train Robbery (1903), the camera was an active participant in Nosferatu and the making of its incredible atmosphere. Rather than simply placing the camera in a locked position, “Murnau chose to employ the camera as a performer, whose movements were always logical and whose stillness always significant.”[7] Eisner recognized that “Murnau had a complete grasp of the visual power that can be won from editing, and the virtuosity with which he directs this succession of shots has real genius”.[8] To do this, Murnau positioned the camera to conjure illusionary perspectives. In the above mentioned scene, when Hutter opened his bedroom door, the door appeared large and a strong safeguard. However, once Hutter sees Nosferatu and runs to his bed the door grew thin and weak because of the camera’s changed position. These “extraordinary visual qualities which Murnau brings to (Nosferatu) and the atmospheric, imaginatively Expressionist backdrops he invokes,” conjured images of intense fear without having to rely on special effects used today in horror films.[9]

nosferatu11 (Lines of coffins with Nosferatu’s victims)

Initially made as a horror film, Nosferatu is one of the greatest reflections of Germany’s fearful state of mind. Images of the once happy streets of Bremen poisoned by Nosferatu’s imminent arrival, beautiful forests turned dark and oppressive, and the beautiful sea turned into a raging storm by Nosferatu’s haunted freight really symbolized Interwar Germany. Scenes like the procession of the dead through Bremen’s streets adhered to the Germans’ inability to escape from an environment they could not control. “The undertakers’ mutes dressed in top hats and skimpy frock-coats moved slowly over the crudely hewn cobbles, black and stiff, bearing, two by two, the slim coffin of a victim of the plague” harkened too the many victims brought home from the War and the sorrow that permeated throughout the interwar period.[10] Kracauer believed Nosferatu, in one instance a Count and another a monster, symbolized tyranny overcome only by purity and youth. Effectively, Ellen became “both the victim of the vampire’s desire and the means of the vampire’s destruction” signifying that love would overthrow tyranny at great sacrifice.[11]

nosferatu12 (Nosferatu looks at Ellen through window) 

After its release, critics and audiences worldwide loved the film, however Stoker’s family sued because Murnau was unauthorized to use Dracula’s story. The court ordered the studio to destroy all copies of Nosferatu, though the original prints survived. Ironically, Nosferatu popularized Stoker’s story and built Murnau’s image as a prestigious director, despite copyright complications. Later German Expressionist film directors, though they did not share Murnau’s love of nature or simpler sets, employed similar themes and tactics. Paul Leni, whose first and last German film, Waxworks, followed Nosferatu as one of the greatest examples of exemplifying a story’s mood through stylized Expressionist sets.


[1] Balázs, Béla, Der richbare Menach. 108. Quoted in Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler, 78.

[2] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 97.

[3] Ebert, Roger. “Nosferatu”, The great movies. New York: Broadway Books, 2002, 332.

[4] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 102.

[5] Eisner, The haunted screen, 133.

[6] Murnau, F.W., dir. 1922. Nosferatu. Films Art Guild.  Accessed May 26, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/.

[7] Parkinson, David. History of film: Second Edition . ed. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 2012, 60.

[8] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 103-04.

[9] Hunter, Allan. Movie classics, 151.

[10] Eisner, The haunted screen, 101-02.

[11] Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler, 79.

Senior Thesis Part 2: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Caliigari2 (Original Movie Poster, 1919)

Caligari’s writers Janowitz and Mayer’s pasts equaled the tragedy and horror portrayed in their story. Before he served as an infantryman in World War I, Janowitz witnessed the rape and murder of a young girl, which haunted him for the better part of his life. Mayer worked multiple jobs from a young age to support his three younger brothers, since their abusive father committed suicide and underwent multiple mental examinations while serving in the army because army psychiatrists believed he showed signs of instability. The famous film theorist and sociologist Seigfried Kraucuer observed in his analysis of the German psyche that these two men, bitter about their experiences in the war, shared a hatred of authority and believed that Caligari “might lend itself to powerful poetic revelation”.[1] Thus Caligari in its raw form embodied their vision of authority which idolized “power . . . to satisfy its lust for domination, (and) ruthlessly (violated) all human rights and values”.[2]

[1] Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947, 64.

[2] Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler, 65.  

caligari1 (Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari)

While Janowitz and Mayer envisioned Caligari’s experimental potential, Pommer and others in the studio liked its inexpensive budget, the studio constrained by the fallen German economy. Originally, Pommer invited Fritz Lang to direct the film but Lang was already working on Die Spinnen (1919) and declined their offer. He nevertheless highly contributed to the film when he suggested they insert a prologue and epilogue to make the film easier for the public to accept. Overall, the bizarre sets and plot would be justified as a projection of a lunatic. Robert Wiene, whose father went slightly insane near his death, eventually became the director and implemented this small change, to the writers’ dismay. Thus, the overall intent of Caligari changed into “the elaborate invention of a fantastic world seen through the eyes of a madman”.[3]

[3] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 20.

caligari2 (Cesare captures Jane and carries her onto the roof. Actor, Conrad Veidt and Actress, Lil Dagover)

Caligari opens with the protagonist Francis sitting with an older man in a copse of trees. After his alleged fiance Jane walks by, Francis begins his horrific story of his dealings with the notorious Dr. Caligari and his exploitation of the somnambulist Cesare. At a carnival Francis and his friend Allen stop in a tent to see Dr. Caligari and Cesare, who then predict Allen’s death. When Cesare’s prediction comes true, Francis vows to find the killer and follows Dr. Caligari to an insane asylum. After Cesare almost kills and kidnaps Jane, Francis discovers that Caligari, who is really the asylum’s director, has gone mad because of his obsession with the real Dr. Caligari from an old legend in a book. From there, Francis and the asylum’s other doctors succeed in capturing Caligari and locking him in one of the asylum’s cells. After he finishes his story, however, it becomes apparent that Francis is really a patient in the asylum and the attendants lock him away once he tries to strangle the asylum’s director.

caligari4 (Francis broods in his room.  Actor, Friedrich Fehér)

Distorted and out of focus, accentuated by its painted shadows, offset angles and peculiar perspective Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig designed the backgrounds to provoke discomfort and fear. Incorporating Expressionist styles, they purposefully made the sets twisted, jagged and out of focus to accentuate Francis’s torn state of mind. Film historian and critic Paul Rotha noted “the set enhanced the dramatic content of meaning of the scene” and for the first time attracted “many people who had hitherto regarded a film as the low watermark of intelligence”.[1] Shadows gained a life of their own, heightened by low-key lighting, and symbolized the hiding place of secrets and truths. 

[1] Rotha, Paul. The film till now, a survey of the cinema,. London: J. Cape, 1930,  99.

caligari5 (Cesare drops Jane and flees from pursuers.)   

Caligari incorporated elements of horror to emphasize the film’s greater purpose: to lead the audience on a journey through the thoughts and world of a madman, where they would “share his distorted idea of the professor of the lunatic asylum in which he (the lunatic) and they (the audience) were confined”.[1]  This film technique, mise en scène (put into scene), meant that everything shown on the screen would, in theory, eventually lead its audience to discover the film’s meanings and truly experience its horror and distorted vision. Unlike French Impressionism, which focused more on cinematography and editing, through mise en scène all of the story’s elements interacted “graphically to create an overall composition. . .  (and) characters (did) not simply exist within a setting, but rather (formed) a visual element that (merged) with that setting.”[2]

[1] Rotha, The film till now, 96.

[2] Bordwell and Thompson, Film art, 354.caligari7 (Dr. Caligari) 

caligari6 (Cesare) 

Actors and actresses had thick makeup and elaborate dark costumes to match Caligari’s sets and employed overstated gestures and facial expressions to stress emotions and actions. This “Expressionistic distortion of gestures is the counterpart to the distortion of objects” and gave infinitely more meaning to the story.[1]  Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as Cesare were the two most memorable actors in Caligari, well known by their performances in the aforementioned Reinhardt theater. They represented important components of Janowitz and Mayer’s vision of modern German society. Cesare “detached from his everyday ambience, deprived of all individuality, an abstract creature” compelled symbolically into servitude by Dr. Caligari was the true victim, representing the common man.[2] “The mysterious Dr. Caligari. . . (lacked) the merest shadow of human scruple (and acted) with the criminal sensibility and defiance of conventional morality”, an overwhelming demonstrative of depraved, oppressive authority. [1] Of course, because all these events came from a madman’s perspective the writers’ message fell short and favored a conformist viewpoint.

[1] Eisner, The haunted screen, 149.

[2] Eisner, The haunted screen, 25.

[3] Eisner, The haunted screen, 27.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Criminal in jail cell, Actor, Rudolf Klein-Rogge)

caligari9 (Francis about to strangle the asylum director)  

Caligari’s message and atmosphere was, as with any creative work, a product of its time.  As a reflection of Weimar Germany’s environment, it stood as an inclusive “expression of the German psyche’s fear that individual freedom encourages chaos and must hence be contained by the harshest of leadership”.[1] From the beginning of the film, Francis seemed to be the true hero of the story, fighting against an evil manipulator and trying to avenge the death of his friend. Nonetheless, Caligari showed that his self-propitiated vision of himself and the past, like the sets, lacked depth and proportion. In fact, Francis was a victim to his own delusions and completely disconnected from reality. Thus, Caligari in its raw power exposed the German soul, redolent of the German’s collapsing universe bordering between tyranny and chaos and the Germans’ “deep and fearful concern with the foundation of the self”.[2]

[1] Hunter, Allan. “The cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, Movie classics. Edinburgh: Chambers, 1992, pg (check this out in library).

[2] Parkinson, David. History of film: Second Edition . ed. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 2012, 58.

cropped-11264352_caligari_241540b.jpg (Cesare captures Jane and slinks into the shadows)

Caligari did not greatly influence world cinema, though critics worldwide admired it for its innovative story and artistic sets. However, because of its release German directors would incorporate Caligari’s Expressionist themes and techniques into future films through the 1920s and establish Germany as a respected film studio. For the next seven years, they created true artistic films, unique to the dark, imaginative German spirit. Of these films, came the first vampire movie, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.  

Senior Thesis Part 1: Background and History

(Note: I will be posting all parts of my senior thesis. It is a collaboration of my learning for my entire college career. I really just want to post it so that people will know what I have accomplished. Thankfully for you I will post it all in different increments.) 

warningshadows1(Opening Scene from Warning Shadows, 1923)

The German Expressionist film era in Weimar Germany existed from 1919-1927 as both an artistic film development and a reflection of the psychological condition of the country’s people. This movement manifested itself in the creation and reception of reputable movies including Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). They incorporated dark, surreal themes embellished through light manipulation, stylized sets and backgrounds, embellished acting methods, and innovative camera techniques. These directors and others in the German studios used these tools to unmask the inner workings of the human soul and understand the true meaning behind the seemingly impenetrable mystery of reality. Whether it was early silent horror films like Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) or silent thrillers like Alfred Hitcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926) and his subsequent films, German Expressionist films’ influence on worldwide cinema was far-reaching, immortalized long after its short era had ended.

background1 (Otto Rippert, Homunculus 1916)background2 (Werner Krauss, The Student of Prague, 1913)

Though German films like Paul Wegener’s The Student of Prague (1913) and Otto Rippert’s six piece serial Homunculus (1916) already incorporated Expressionist themes, circumstances would not favor German Expressionist film until the end of The Great War. The detrimental effects of The Great War essentially pushed this movement into existence. Its imperial dreams crushed and national pride lost, Germany, which stood at the height of industrial and military power, was defeated at the end of 1918 and forced to take full responsibility for the war. The Treaty of Versailles’ conditions for Germany, which included massive war reparations of 132 billion gold marks (US$33 billion), a command for the German military to disarm, and multiple territory concessions fostered terrible economic problems, like hyperinflation in 1923. Historian and film critic Lotte E. Eisner observed “the German mind had difficulty in adjusting itself to the collapse of the imperial dream; and in the early years of its short life the Weimar Republic had the troublesome task of meeting outside demands (Versailles). . . while at the same time maintain equilibrium internally”.[1]

World War I, as historian Edmond Taylor observed “killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions, but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe”.[2] In addition, in the film Judgment At Nuremeburg (1961), one of the defendants Ernst Yanning surmised, “There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves.”[3] His statement, though spoken at the end of World War II, embodies the overwhelming feeling of despair that seemed to permeate Germanys’ people. These undeniable scars and psychological problems manifested themselves in the arts, especially in film.

[1] Eisner, Lotte H.. The haunted screen; expressionism in the German cinema and the influence of Max Reinhardt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, 9.

[2]Taylor, Edmond. The fossil monarchies: the collapse of the old order, 1905-1922.. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967, 306,

[3] Kramer, Stanley, dir. 1961. Judgment at Nuremburg. United Artists. Accessed May 8, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/.

background3 (Albert Sterner, The Erlking , 1910)

Pulsing, deep questions on human moral and the mind grew from the melancholy environment of Interwar Germany, calling for solutions and explanations for the suffering brought by the First World War. Through the arts, more specifically Expressionism, the Germans released bottled up emotions and memories caused by the war at its aftermath. Their attraction to darker, supernatural themes culminated in the obscure and undetermined nature of Expressionism and its love of ghosts, visions, dreams and the mystical nature of the mind and spirit. Eisner explained it thus:

“Mysticism and magic, the dark forces to which Germans have always been more than willing to commit themselves, had flourished in the face of death on the battlefield. The hecatombs of young men fallen in the flower of their youth seemed to nourish the grim nostalgia of the survivors. And the ghosts which had haunted the German Romantics revived, like the shades of Hades after draughts of blood.”[1]

Harkening to the dark nature of the Romantic era characterized by pieces like Franz Schubert’s Lied, “Erlkönig” (The Earl King) and enhanced by the grim atmosphere wrought by the War, the German artists turned to Grübelei, “the eternal attraction towards all that is obscure and undetermined. . .culminated in the apocalyptic doctrine of Expressionism”, that wove its way inevitably through film.[2]

[1] Eisner The haunted screen, 9.

[2] Eisner The haunted screen, 9.

Germany’s isolation during the Great War also contributed to the rise of its Expressionist Film era. By 1916, it stopped exporting German films and importing foreign films from France, America and Italy. Eventually, partly to counter anti-German propaganda, the German government created the major German film company the Universum Film AG (UFA) in 1917 to both satisfy the country’s universal desire for films and “promote pro-war films”.[1] Initially, the UFA created three different film types, adventures and spy movies, educational films on sexuality and copied pre-war Italian historical epics, and established itself fairly well as a legitimate film studio with “superb technicians and (some of the) best-equipped studios in Europe”.[2] It was not however through the UFA that Germany finally had a threshold in the world of cinema, but rather a smaller company entangled with German theater.

background4  (Max Reinhardt)background5 (Scene from Reinhardt’s production of Oedipus Rex, 1910)

The famous theater director Max Reinhardt managed the Deutsches Theater in Berlin from 1905-1930 where he implemented Expressionist themes onto the stage. Truly passionate about his work, Reinhardt worked to establish an authentically artistic, quality theater. By 1906, he made his intimate theater, or kammerspiele ,“with dim lights and warm-toned wood paneling, in which an elite. . . could eel all the significance of a smile, a hesitation, or an eloquent silence” with eloquent mastery.[3] Famous actors like Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Emil Jannings and multiple others, future esteemed American actors, first professionally acted as part of Reinhardt’s theatre troupe.

The German cinema and theater remained closely linked since the beginning of the film era through its actors, technicians, and set designers. These connections resulted into a unique type of film studio Filmwelt, “an off-shoot of the theatrical establishment, a concept foreign to non-Germans” especially American studios, whose theater and cinema stayed separated by nearly 3000 miles.[4] Between its directors and collaborators there existed little competition, hardly any professional jealousy and group effort was a set rule in the production of each film. Eisner observed, “One of the secrets of the success of the classical German film was the perfect technical harmony achieved by long Regiesitzungen”, two month long group discussions on films in production “which the director invited everybody due to work on the film, from the chief designer and chief cameraman to the workmen in charge of the lighting.”[5]

[1] Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film art: an introduction. 5th ed. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 1997, 353.

[2] Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film art, 353

[3] Eisner The haunted screen, 177.

[4] Hull, David Stewart. Film in the Third Reich: a study of the German cinema, 1933-1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, 4.

[5] Eisner The haunted screen, 37.

background6  (Carl Mayer) background7 (Han Janowitz)

Through Decla-Bioscop managed by Erich Pommer, future director of the UFA from 1924-1926, Germany’s Filmwelt fully blossomed, its personnel inbred and interchangeable almost like a complicated, synchronized web. In 1919, Pommer took a gamble and decided to bring to life the unconventional vision of writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz in the production of the inexpensive, experimental story The Cabinet of Caligari. Caligari “created a sensation in America, France, and other countries. . . (and) a stylistic movement in cinema that lasted several years”.[1] In time, German Expressionist films would fulfill the desires of directors and film producers to promote marketable artistic films; nonetheless, given Germany’s economic circumstances and psychological state, they unsurprisingly depicted the existential threat to German civilization.

[1] Bordwell and Thompson, Film art, 353.