Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Experiment

(2001, German) *****

I’m probably the least qualified of the panel to review this movie but I will try my goodest to sound professional. I would be very interested to hear JPX or AC’s clinical perspective. (hint, hint) The Experiment is a German film based on the Stanton Prison Experiment conducted (and aborted) in 1971.

Tarek, a struggling journalist agrees to take part in a two week prison simulation. A group of 20 middle class men are selected and randomly divided into prisoners and guards. The guards go home to their families at night while the prisoners give up all rights and are required to stay. No physical violence is permitted but other than that, anything goes. Almost immediately, both groups begin to test their boundaries. Tarek challenges authority to see just how far they will go while school teacher Berus quickly turns sadistic to keep everyone in line. Degrading and humiliating tactics are used to keep order and Tarek is made an example of by being thrown in “the box” Berus (who scared the living shit out of me) also forces him to clean a toilet with his prison garb and then wear it.

Things quickly spiral out of control as both the guards and prisoners lose their sense of reality and identity. Professor Thon (the superintendent) refuses to stop the experiment when the other doctors express their concerns. All hell eventually breaks loose as the guards take complete control.

The real-life experiment was aborted after only 6 days due to the extreme abuses and psychological damage inflicted. Some of the guards worked overtime despite no extra pay. A lot of the abuses depicted in the movie actually happened including sexual humiliation and spraying the prisoners with fire extinguishers. The movie takes it a step further by forcing the doctors into submission, resulting in rape and murder.

One of the many sobering lessons of the experiment is how environment can dictate behavior and ultimately lead to dehumanizing. Immediately I thought of I’mNotMarc’s hypothetical situation of Leatherface being raised by Martha Stewart. And it’s nearly impossible to watch this movie without connecting it to the Abu Ghraib torture/abuse scandal. It wasn’t surprising to learn that Philip Zimbardo, the researcher who spearheaded the Stanton prison experiment, testified on behalf of one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards.

As for the movie itself, I consider it a bonafide masterpiece. The actors are 100% convincing and each scene is significantly more intense than the last.


DCD said...

Wow - sounds extremely intense.

Human nature can be a scary thing...I would also hope we get to hear from jpx or ac on this one. Also because I don't know if it's something I could handle watching.

AC said...

Yeah, I'm not so sure I can handle it myself, but at least it is on my netflix queue.

JPX said...

In graduate school AC and I saw the original slide show a few times in various classes. Unfortunately there is no footage of this event but the slide show with audio is chilling enough. What's amazing is just how quickly people began to become their roles!

I want to see a sinister take on the Stanley Milgram experiments. It's because of him that we're no longer able to do interesting research on test subjects.