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4.3 out of 5 stars
Das Experiment [DVD]
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
One thing that is scary about this film is that it is based on a real experiment, carried out in 1971 at Stanford University, but what is really scary is how similar the fictional experiment is to the real one. The filmmakers really did their homework on this one: the dignity-robbing dresses the 'prisoners' have to wear, along with the flip-flops so they have to shuffle everywhere, the use of numbers instead of names, the 'guards' deciding to use press-ups as punishment: all of this was based on fact.
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.
Perhaps the most scary thing about the whole experiment, is that the BBC decided to repeat it on film at about the time this film was being made. They put in some safeguards, like a rule about no physical violence/contact being allowed. Guess what? the same conditions were placed in this fictional experiment. Fortunately the BBC experiment didn't end as violently, but it was still abandoned half-way through because of the psychological effects on the subjects.
I did find myself wondering how people endure real prison sentences of years, seeing how a few days can effect someone, and the next time I see someone sentenced to one month in jail I will not be thinking that they have got off lightly! Any film that can inspire such speculation in the viewer must deserve five stars - I just took one off for the clumsy girlfriend sub-plot, and the lack of extras: a bit of documentary on the Stanford experiment including original footage, would have been perfect. Maybe they are saving that for a future special edition?
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2002
Recently we have seen many brilliant German films -- such as "Run Lola Run" -- and now, another superb film comes from that country, with the same Moritz Bleibtreu (who was Manni, Lola's love). But this time, the thrilling film "Das Experiment" is excellent for totally different reasons.
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.
The premise of this psychological thriller is so simple (and some may remember Samuel Fuller's "Shock Corridor") that you may be incredulous reading my summery, but I can tell you that this film is really harrowing and traumatic, and at the same time very gripping as a thriller. If my review lead you to think that this film is all about violence, you are mistaken. "Das Experiment" is, in my opinion, a first-rate psychological drama, or psychological thriller that will rivet your heart slowly but steadily, like any best Hitchcock films. But you must be also warned. Some scenes realize those humiliations of characters including Tarek in a so disturbing way -- for instance, his hair is all shaven by the secret attack by the guards -- that you stop even breathing with eyes nailed on the nightmare visions the first-time director (as feature) Oliver Hirschbiegel shows.
"Das Experiment" is an example of superb storytelling and observations on humans (and surprisingly, it contains some romance in it). Though some parts of the film seem to go too far (the university will not, I think, do this sloppy job), "Das Experiment," absorbing thriller and thought-provoking study on humanity, should not be missed.
Finally some confusing things should be made clear. The film is based on the book "Black Box" by Mario Giordano, of which story is based on the psychological experiment conducted by Stanford University. Some audience might think that this film is directly based on this "Stanford Prison Experiment." The experiment itself is really a historical truth, but the film, set in today's German, clearly doesn't draw what actually happened at this university. But this fact doesn't reduce the value of the film at all.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2004
Das Experiment is an excellent film exploring human nature in unusual circumstances. The storyline may be simple (a role-play experiment where people playing guards and prisoners are closely monitored and observed) but the complexity of the characters individual psychology is thrilling.
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2006
This film is based on a true story, the Stanford Prison Experiment, which shows the inhuman behaviour of which ordinary humans are capable of under certain conditions. The film as dramatic fiction does go beyond SPE, but it illustrates the same phenomenon, which we have seen in real life in Abu Ghraib. It illustrates the truth of the ancient Roman saying 'Who guards the guardians?' Without adequate leadership and guidance, instead of prisoners being treated humanely, as they should be, the use of power is liable to get out of hand.
Although fiction, it seems to me that this film may well be worthwhile watching for anyone involved in justice systems or interested in prison reform. It will also provide strong dramatic entertainment. But certainly unsuitable for any minor.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2003
This movie is excellent. Dramatised but based on a true story, it is the type of movie that leaves you thinking about it for days. Bleibtreu is brilliant as always and the rest of the actors are also pretty good.
Well worth your money! Buy, buy, buy!!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2003
Studying psychology myself i was enthralled to see this international twist on the classic Zimbardo study into authoritarian roles in a simulated prison environment. After watching it i can truly say that this film has worked beautifull and has amazingly crafted. With a suspense filled contempory soundtrack it has become my favourate film of all time...
A must see for everyone
A truely brilliant film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERon 8 September 2014
This is a first rate German thriller, which was subsequently taken up by Hollywood and made into an inferior remake starring Adrien Brody. Two groups of adult men are paid to play the roles of guards and prisoners, in a staged and monitored prison environment, as an experiment to see how the two groups will react to each other. Rules are set by the organisers, for example, the guards must not use physical violence or humiliate the prisoners, whilst the prisoners must eat their food and follow the instructions of the guards. Predictably enough, the guards include some rather nasty and sadistic chappies, whom one might regard as "little Hitlers", whilst the prisoners include some defiant and rebellious individuals, with their fair share of cajones. Each group of men pushes the boundaries, to see what they can or cannot get away with, and inevitably, the guards resort to bullying and physically chastising the inmates. This film has a definite flair and style, which strongly reminded me of Luc Besson's sublime thriller Nikita (Hollywood also took up Nikita, and then made a very inferior remake of that too). The cinematography is excellent, indeed the early scenes of Berlin at night-time are very eye-catching, and reminded me of some of the cinematography in another German film, Christiane F. The acting is superb from start to finish, there is no weakest link in this cast. The frequent scenes of violence are well choreographed and executed. The dialogue is fairly sparse, but that's a good thing, no words are wasted and the pacing of the film is energetic. The film score is perfectly judged. You form a relationship with the central characters from the outset, and, in the early parts of the film at least, you can find your loyalties divided between the two groups of men. It is all very cleverly orchestrated. I watched this on LoveFilm a few years ago, and then had to buy the DVD, it is a mesmerising and brilliantly realised thriller, that will merit several repeat viewings over the years(so long as you don't mind subtitles).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 9 January 2011
This was the directorial debut of Olivier Hirschbiegel who has gone on to do some excellent cinema, most notably 'Downfall' Downfall (1 Disc Edition) [DVD] [2004]. For a first time out this is an accomplished piece of cinema and once again shows that Germany can make excellent films without pandering to the US market which sadly is too often the case with British efforts. Starring Moiritz Bleibtrau (Run Lola Run and The Baader Meinhoff Complex) and Christian Berkel (Downfall and Flame and Citron) they also collaborated with Olivier again in 'European Mavericks, which alas I have yet to see.

The plot is simple but effective in that some Psychologists place an advert for volunteers to take part in an experiment in behavioural attitudes of the incarcerated and those that are entrusted to guard them. It is for a fixed fee and a fixed period and after a few mind tests they are allocated their designated roles. They are then told that violence is not allowed, but the guards figure that means only the physical sort and so start to push the boundaries.

This is a compelling fast paced film which keeps up the momentum almost all the way through. There is one bizarre moment where the 'love interest' enters the life of the main character and the music goes all jazz night club sax solo in a totally unnecessary way to denote rumpy pumpy will be in the offing in the not too distant future - pointless. Still cliché errors aside this is still ein corker of a film and has been remade in Hollywood with an excellent cast including Forest Whitaker, but I am reliably informed that this is oodles better and it is a lot cheaper in amazon market place. For lovers of European cinema I can highly recommend you will not be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 March 2010
Done as one of the new wave of excellent German cinema, Das Experiment vaguely follows the story of Zimbardo's 'Stanford Prison Experiment' (see The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil for a more comprehensive overview). Different to that one, the participants in this experiment were not psychology students but volunteers who applied - one of whom was Tarek (Moritz Bleibtreu), a cab driver. On top of pocketing the participation fees, he decides to do a scoop for a newspaper, something fishy being expected right from the go.

The 20 volunteers get randomly assigned to two groups - prisoners and guards and justl ike in the original experiment they take on their perceived roles within a shockingly short time. The real experiment was broken off less than half the planned time in, as it was derailing so rapidly that permanent psychological damage to the participants was feared - the movie goes a bit further for dramatic effect and the experiment does not get broken off when it should have been.

What I found particularly shocking about the movie, was that it makes it very graphic and believable how horrendous acts are possible by otherwise perfectly normal seeming people and how slippery and steep the downward slope really is. Some viewers might dismiss it as the movie going too far - anyone familiar with the real Stanford Prison Experiment will know that the truth is, if anything even more shocking. The movie let's one contemplate things for quite some time - it is not an easy 'evening entertainment' type film.

To top it all off the acting is brilliant and the characters are sufficiently well developed and lifelike. Moritz Bleibtreu might not have followed Franka Potente (both from Run Lola Run [DVD] [1999]) to Holywood but the quality of his acting is definitely not inferior in any way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2007
This is one of my ever favourite movies though I wouldn't say it is an everyday classic. That is because the content is so threatening real and you cannot avoid thinking: "And me? What would I have done?"

The story idea is based on an actual experiment known as the Stanford-Prison-Experiment done in 1971. In the true story the experiment was aborted after six days but the keepers were not as violent as shown in the film. Nevertheless the film feels real every second. After reading about the Stanford-Prison-Experiment I even think the film is a possible scenario.

One thing is for sure, it is not an "entertaining" movie but what could be better than a movie that goes under your skin?
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