Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Stanford Prison Experiment: Movie Review

Recreates the experiment with intensity and alarming intrigue.

Based on the psychology experiment conducted by Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University in the summer of 1971, the film The Stanford Prison Experiment is just as shocking even when we know the results. Watching it all unfold in this straight-forward recreation is still distressing, stunning, and alarming thanks to the fantastic ensemble cast and a chronological re-telling that really helps to put it in context 2015

Directed by: Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Screenplay by: Tim Talbott

Starring: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, and Olivia Thirlby

Portrayed by Billy Crudup, Dr. Zimbardo was interested in studying the psychology of imprisonment and how people adapted to their roles as prisoners or guards. So he set up his psychology experiment as a summer job for students and hired 24 who applied and then separated them into prisoners and guards.

All the actors playing students playing a prisoner or a guard are all up-and-coming well-respected actors working hard to earn a name for themselves. Of those who played a critical role in the experiment include Michael Angarano as a guard, and Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, Tye Sheridan and Thomas Mann as prisoners. Angarano in particular had his character develop an additional persona as the sadistic captain from Cool Hand Luke. And similar to J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, gave the film a humorous but unsettling tone.

However, the most shock-inducing moments come from the title time cards that simply say “Day 2” and you realize just how quickly this experiment spirals out of control. But of course that’s part of the lack of controls that Zimbardo put in place – giving the guards complete authority and the prisoners could no longer tell the difference between experiment and real life.

The film also gave good moments to James Wolk and Gaius Charles who help Dr. Zimbardo with the experiment and Olivia Thirlby as his girlfriend who are all able to realize that it is going terribly wrong. Well let’s rephrase that, terribly wrong for humanity, terribly interesting to Dr. Zimbardo from a psychology point of view.

I loved the structure of the film and the simplicity in recreating what happened. It made the degree to which the prisoners and guards conformed to their roles in the extremely short time-frame that much more shocking. And then it just keeps elevating the intensity all the while you’re thinking it can’t get any worse. And of course, while all of this is going on, there are the interesting questions of morality and watching each character trying to justify their position.
Best of 2015

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