With a terrific display of ensemble acting and unforced use of the currently popular claustrophobic semi-documentary look, Hirschbiegel's movie takes its time to get underway, with apparently irrelevant cutaways to Fahd's outside girlfriend (Maren Eggert), but works up to a powerful second half that delivers a sustained symphony of psychological and physical anguish.
On the DVD: Das Experiment on disc has an excellent-looking anamorphic widescreen transfer with English subtitles. The only extra feature is the trailer. --Kim Newman
Obviously the film goes a bit further, and the situation escalates to a more violent outcome than the real life one did. I only read about the Stanford experiment after watching this film, and a few things which I thought were stretching credibility a bit turned out to be ones which which did really happen - a prisoner breaking down within two days seemed unlikely, but that actually happened at Stanford.
As for the film itself, it is very well shot, and the editing picks up the pace as it hurtles towards a conclusion. The acting is spot-on too. The only things that spoiled it for me was the strange sub-plot about the hero's girlfriend which was told in flashbacks interleaved in the main story. For me it was intrusive and detracted from the main plot.
As a piece of cinema on its own, this rates quite highly, but the real value of it is in the thoughts it can provoke if you start thinking about the implications, of how brutality can be carried out by 'normal' people if the circumstances are right, with the victims being dehumanised. It makes it easier to understand how some of the Nazi concentration camps were possible (which makes it especially brave for a German to make this film) and how some of the more recent events at Abu Ghraib were possible.... Read more ›
A taxi driver Tarek (Bleibtreu) sees an ad on a newspaper that looks very interesting, which read: "Participants Needed. 2 Weeks in a Mock Prison. Reward 4,000 German marks." He decides to apply, is accepted, and goes to a university where this experiment is to be done.
The "experiment" is conducted as follows: 20 participants are divided into to groups, 8 "guards" and 12 "prisoners." The former group were given uniform, handcuffs and other equipments while the latter are required to live in a small cell, wearing only a long white jacket. Though no violence is allowed on both sides, the "guards" set up 6 rules for the "prisoners" to obey. In case of emergency, the professors provide monitoring cameras that relay the images to the controlling room where the supervisors are supposed to watch over every detail of the behaivors of the participants. In this way, the first day starts.
But, as the days pass, the at first peaceful relations between the two groups start to get intensified. Some slight scuffle develops into a bigger and more serious fight and even the uprising of Tarek (now called No. 77), and those "guards" and "prisoners," ordinary people up until then, seriously start to struggle for the power, using unnecessary method of torturing and humiliating prisoners. The "experiment," revealing the brutal human nature under ever-increasing pressure, goes more than the intellectual professors expected, and everything results in inevitable catastrophy.... Read more ›
What happens when we give a small group of people power over others? How do different people react to such power? The shy and unloved becomes the tyrant, the rebelliouse beceomes the whimp and everything and everyone is turned inside out, revealing their darker inner selves, or the hidden hero they never knew they were.
When everything runs out of control the suspense is unbearable. Who runs the show now? Reality and Fantasy become indistinguishable, and we look right onto our darkest fears about who we are. A thrilling, mind-twisting, exciting, scary work of art not to be missed.
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