My interest in film studies was sparked by a course I took with Professor Cafferty on post-War German film in the spring semester of my sophomore year, and I returned to this area of study for my honors project. In that course, we viewed Wim Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin and Tom Tykwer’s Lola rennt and were prompted to think about what similarities were shared by these two films. I later wrote a paper for a Film Narrative course, arguing that Tykwer’s film could be viewed as a direct response to Wenders’ work because each film shares an interest in exploring an intense romantic relationship, and does so by exploiting similar aesthetic techniques. While I was intrigued by my ideas, I was dissatisfied by my conclusions and decided to return to a close analysis of these two films in this independent study.
When I took a step back from my earlier thesis, I realized that the similarities and connections I saw in these two films were strongly tied to German Expressionism. This style of filmmaking arose in the 1920s during the Weimar Republic, at a time when Germany was confronted with feelings of hopelessness after the loss of World War I. I defined Expressionism by its interest in portraying a chaotic and distorted world and named its most prominent filmmakers and their most prominent aesthetics and themes. For example, F.W. Murnau pioneered the mobile camera in Der Letzte Mann, Robert Wiene filmed shadowy, jagged backgrounds in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Stellan Rye examined the split self in the doubling of Balduin in Der Student von Prag, and Fritz Lang explored the danger present in the potentially duplicitous woman in Metropolis. I looked to critic Sabine Hake’s interpretation of expressionist film to provide an overarching definition of this style for my thesis; she believes that these Weimar films combine showing(aesthetic techniques) and telling(narrative structures) to create a completely new type of cinema. I argued that, while other scholars classified them as New German Cinema Autorenfilme, Wenders’ and Tykwer’s films are connected because they borrow convincingly and consistently from German Expressionism. In part one of my thesis, I analyzed each film’s opening sequence, which employs the mobile camera to give a sense of the setting and juxtaposes the tension of the soundtrack with the observation powers of a meditative camera. I examined each film’s “red scenes,” in which the main characters share a dialogue about their relationships, and argued that the use of this color creates a contrast that reflects the emotional intensity of expressionism. In part two, I focused first on Wenders’ doubling of a male character to reflect his split desires and the doubled woman, who poses a threat to male independence. I then explored Tykwer’s Lola, who is doubled with her father in the woman-meets-monster confrontation that finds its root in Caligari.
Working on this project with Professor Cafferty was both challenging and rewarding. While she pushed me to further explain and better understand my own ideas, she also encouraged me at every step of the researching, thinking, writing, and editing processes. Her knowledge and familiarity with these films as well as with German film history helped me develop my ideas, and her expectations of my work pushed me to become a better writer and thinker.