Prisoners' fantasies in Weimar film: The longing for a rational and just legal system

Ofer Ashkenazi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Prison cells constituted a unique sphere in post-World War I German films. Unlike most of the modern city spheres, it was a realm in which the private and the public often merged, and in which reality and fantasy incessantly intertwined. This article analyses the ways in which filmmakers of the Weimar Republic envisaged the experience within the prison, focusing on its frequent association with fantasies and hallucinations. Through the analysis of often-neglected films from the period, I argue that this portrayal of the prison enabled Weimar filmmakers to engage in public criticism against the conservative, inefficient and prejudiced institutions of law and order in Germany. Since German laws forbade direct defamation of these institutions, filmmakers such as Joe May, Wilhelm Dietherle and Georg C. Klaren employed the symbolism of the prisoner's fantasy to propagate the urgent need for thorough reform. Thus this article suggests that Weimar cinema, contrary to common notions, was not dominated by either escapism or extremist, anti-liberal worldviews. Instead, the prison films examined in this article are in fact structured as a warning against the decline of liberal bourgeois society in the German urban centres of the late 1920s.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)290-304
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of European Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • German film
  • Liberalism
  • Madness
  • Prison
  • Weimar Republic


Dive into the research topics of 'Prisoners' fantasies in Weimar film: The longing for a rational and just legal system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this