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4.3 out of 5 stars54
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 23 May 2009
It is always a pleasure, particularly for this reviewer, to discover a film that takes you completely by surprise, hooks you and then keeps you pinned to your seat right to the end. Das Experiment is exactly that kind of film.
Taking the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (who would go on to direct the superb Downfall) and screenwriter Mario Giordano (who adapted the screenplay from his own book Black Box) have crafted a clever, gripping and extremely unsettling movie. The premise is very simple. 20 individuals volunteer for a psychological experiment and are subsequently divided up into 8 guards and 12 prisoners. They are then asked to play out their roles for two weeks whilst scientists running the experiment monitor their behaviour. There are rules which each side must adhere to, such as the prisoners must wear smocks and flip flops at all times, can only be referred to by their numbers, and must obey the guards orders. For their part, the guards are tasked with keeping the "Prison" in order, and are told there is to be absolutely no physical or mental violence towards the prisoners. Each of the volunteers has their own reasons for becoming a test subject (money, curiosity, companionship), but for one Tarek/Prisoner 77 (Moritz Bleibtreu) his reasons are much murkier. He is an undercover reporter, and it is in his interests to ratchet up the tension between the prisoners and guards in order to make his story more exciting and as a result more saleable.
Initially the test subjects settle into their roles and don't take things to seriously, with mock displays of resistance by the prisoners meeting rather pathetic initial attempts by the guards to keep order. However, as Tarek plays his game, the guards resort to more brutal methods and the experiment spirals rapidly out of control as the initially mild mannered Berus (Justus von Dohnanyi) becomes the unspoken leader of the guards and instigates more and more brutal methods. The experiment eventually spirals into a genuinely gripping and often nightmarish vision of suspense and horror as things completely break down and all semblance of order is lost.
This is a great film, with a terrific ensemble cast being allowed to inhabit their roles (particularly Bleibtreu and Dohnanyi, but also Christian Berkel as a fellow prisoners who also has a secret to hide), and a very clever use of security camera footage on several scenes to give the viewer the feeling that this is a real prison in all but name, and a semi-documentary feel to give the proceedings a genuine sense of immediacy. Whilst a slow burner at the start (thinks don't really get interesting until the experiment gets underway) with an apparently irrelevant side plot involving Tarek's girlfriend (although this is a sly move by Hirschbiegel as this side plot becomes crucial in the final stages of the movie), stick with it, because the second half of the movie contains a sustained and unrelenting study of human brutality, both mental and physical.
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on 26 May 2008
I once read a book about obedience test based upon Milgram experiment. When I read more about the film after viewing it, I realised that there was a connection between them. The film is inspired from a social experiment called Stanford Prison experiment conducted in 1971. In Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted this experiment by distributing guardian and prisoner roles on his students. However students speedily assumed their roles so realistically that they started exhibiting sadistic intents. The experiment was discontinued after 6 days due to mental and physical damages on the participants.

The film at first carefully distances itself from the Stanford experience but it clearly depicts it. Wonderful acting and realistic insight screening of the human mind under pressure. The most striking aspect is that once in hardship conditions a leader emerges in the groups dragging along the rest with them. One guardian and one prisoner clearly arise from the rest.I recall the film Lord of the Flies which I dare not see.

The scientists try to dig deep into the unknown darknesses of the human being but their created atmosphere and guided experiments do not yield a scientific result. The subject is generally associated with Abu Ghraib abuses, Nazi concentration camps or people living under Nazi regime. Their general idea is that the individual is not guilty but the system and environment turn normal human beings into evil demons. I can not agree! The torturers of leftists who opposed the fascists in Germany were well aware of their ill-doings. The "normal" American GI voluntarily join the army in search of a better life after serving his country defeating the infidels. What better way to avoid Iraqi snipers and bombs than to stay in prison and make himself useful. People are raised in an environment and yes,the environment affect them. But it is up to the individual to behave good or bad in a given situation and he must be responsible for his acts! At least this is what I am trying to do, one has to act in a certain way in life and recommend others to follow suit...
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on 13 July 2008
This thrilling, edge of seat film, cannot be recommended highly enough. A simple idea, based on a real life experiment, sees 20 men volunteer to live in a prison environment for 14 days, 8 as guards, 12 as prisoners. The men come from all walks of life - an Elvis impersonater, a flight steward, a journalist who moon-lights as a taxi driver, the owner of a newspaper kiosk. They are lured by the generous pay and agree to abide by the rules. Given numbers instead of names and shapeless hospital type gowns to wear, the de-huminisation of the prisoners begins on day 1.

But journalist no 77 has a hidden camera of his own, and in the early days whilst there is good natured banter and jokes between prisoners and guards, he is keen to cause conflict to get a better story. But as the guards are pushed further and futher the mood turns ugly. No physical punishment is allowed - but that leaves room for other, darker tortures.

The experiment is quickly out of control as the guards start drinking and even fighting amongst themselves. When they overthrow the staff of the University who are monitoring the project and put them in the cells, it is up to no 77's new girlfriend and the Professor in overall charge to try and storm the "prison" before it is too late...

A thought provoking, chilling film, this is a rollercoaster ride for the viewer and moves at such a pace that the subtitles are soon forgotten as the viewer is drawn into the dangerous prison life.
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on 20 July 2011
Though I must admit that the acting is generally pretty good, especially from the lead actor, as well as compelling photography, my problem with this film is that, in my opinion, it absolutely depends on being able to convince the viewer that the small psychological "turns" that are taken onto the path of violence, and even killing, would be irresistible for the viewer too, and this simply did not happen for me. Any viewer who reads the description on the cover of the DVD would know what the outcome of the film was going to be, so there is no interest in this; what is of interest is to be able to identify with the decisions of the characters who turn to violence by small increments - the coming to power of the Nazi regime in Germany being a perfect example of this process - and I just couldn't buy it, so the film simply deteriorated into silly and laughable violence (such as the incarceration of the experimenters), and had nothing to say about the tragic inevitability of violence among humans, and the corrupting force of power, which is what I think it set out to do. Big idea, good idea, but just no subtlety or psychological intuition on the part of the script writer and the director.
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on 4 February 2015
Good movie
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on 29 July 2015
good film
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on 23 March 2009
I bought this film already having read of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and I must say I was appalled by this film.

The film-makers have taken one of the most important yet abhorrent experiments ever carried out in the field of social sciences, and twisted and corrupted it until it loses all moral force.

The motivation for the original experiment was horribly naive, but in this film that motivation has been replaced with something brutally and clinically cynical. The normal people used as subjects in the original have been replaced with emotionally damaged people, selected purely for their susceptibility to manipulation. The experimenters are shown as detached from the action, whereas in reality one of the problems with the experiment is that the academic staff became too emotionally involved.

Furthermore, our "hero" in this film manipulates the situation to his own cynical ends, making him no better than the people running the experiment, and much worse than any of his fellow subjects. The "bad guy" is a hackneyed "Nazi" stereotype, hounded by his own inadequacies, specifically chosen for his psychological profile and pushed to breaking point by our "hero".

Other reviewers have commented on how surprising it is that some of the more extreme events in the film are taken directly from the real experiment, but the force of this is lost by the escalation of later events way beyond anything that occured in the real experiment. The atmosphere is also made unbearable by the addition of a musical soundtrack include some rock music more suited to an action film than what should be a psychological drama. The preposterous romantic subplot (based as it is on a random encounter and subsequent one-night stand) also distracts from the emotional force of the main thrust of the film.

If this was a fictional film, it would be passable. Not good, merely passable. Some people elevate it to high art, lauding its handling of an important event. I say that it shows massive disrespect to the event it handles and is a film that deserves to be forgotten.

If you want to know about Stanford Prison, read the real story. If you merely want to be entertained, there are plenty of films that will serve your purpose much better than this one.
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on 25 August 2002
I have just watched this film about 10 minutes ago and i felt i had to write a little about it on here as it was just so incredable. There isn't a lot to add to the other review which is on here, but I do feel that the cuts away to the main characters girl friend do have relivence, in that it is the escape from his enclosure. There are also very good uses of the surroundings within the film, such as light falling on 77's face at a certain point to represent freedom, or the end...not wanting to give much away, just go and buy it, or rent'd be crazy to miss it.
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on 4 January 2012
I bought this DVD having read the high-rating reviews, and having read (and found very interesting) Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority. I found nothing that I could take from it as a work of cinema or as a comment on human behaviour. Nothing new, nothing interesting.
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on 31 January 2015
A waist of money
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