7 June 2012 | StevePulaski
You are what you are, and few are willing to change that
The Experiment is based on that very well known experiment that took place in Stanford University's basement where a mock prison was constructed and twenty-four applicants were divided up and given the vague roles of either a "guard" or a "prisoner." The motivation? A decent pay cut, around $15 a day (the film counterpart ups the pay to $1,000 a day). Guards were armed with intimidating, militaristic outfits, while the prisoners were ill-equipped with a smock and no underwear. Originally set to be a fourteen day test, the experiment ended after day six due to drastic measures taken by the inmates and guards that could've been fatal. Abuse was common, the issue of inferiority plagued the prisoners until they tried to force a rebellion, and borderline torturous acts were committed by the guards.
The film is the American remake of the German picture Das Experiment, as of now, unseen by me, but not totally written off. I'm not entirely sure if a film based on the prison experiment could effectively be made. This is one of those cases where history and facts overshadow fictionalization and dramatization. I believe a documentary would've been far more suited for this subject.
We are met with Adrien Brody, playing Travis, an Atheist softie who agrees to partake in a psychological experiment held by a local organization along with twenty-three other people. Early on, he meets Michael Barris (Whitaker) who seems to be a content and well-managed individual, but when he is given the title of a "guard" and Travis the title of a "prisoner," their true sides come out, and abandonment is quickly brought forth.
Much of what I explained above occurs in the film, but in a seemingly muted form. Nothing is ever very explicit or, for that matter, truly interesting. The cinematography is some to commend, perfectly personifying the prison as the one instigating the violence. The atmosphere is so gritty and real that we can see it takes a drastic effect on the people.
The whole event feels like Lord of the Flies come to life. Both Golding's timeless novel and Philip Zimbardo's 1971 experiment prove that when stripped of all things just and civil, humans will scram for security and the gray idea of "what is right?" before completely forgoing all the former rules, recognizing this is a new place, and furthermore, begin to act on their id, their desire to feed their consuming savagery. This is definitely taken into consideration in the film, and is the highest point this picture has to offer.
But as far as a worthy retelling of the events, it's pretty thin and underwhelming. The film was directed by Paul Scheuring, who directed some episodes of the FOX crime drama Prison Break, and that is exactly how it plays; like a Television crime drama. The performances, mainly by Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker, and the exceptional cinematography elevate the film to a passable status, but The Experiment lacks essential character development essential to furthering ones feelings towards its prisoners, and, instead of playing like an superbly intense film, it plays like what it is; an American remake.
Starring: Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker. Directed by: Paul Scheuring.