The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

(On Cable TV, October 2016) I would like to be more enthusiastic about The Stanford Prison Experiment. After all, it’s a well-made film, soberly discussing a striking experiment in human nature. The real-life Zimbardo case study has bewildered generations of psychology students in showing the innate potential for abuse in everyone—a film stickling relatively closely to the facts of the events is close to a public good. But, as unfair as it can be to judge a film of the merits of another, it turns out that the Zimbardo study has already inspired a number of movies, and my memories of 2001’s overtly fictional Das Experiment are still good enough that this more reality-based take on the film feels like a rethread. It’s not fair, I know: The filmmakers behind The Stanford Prison Experiment probably intended to deliver a factual chronicle of the events fit to remain a reference. Instead, their mild-mannered take on the subject feels more perfunctory than anything else. The sober re-creation of its 1970s setting is absorbing, and the way the events quickly spin out of control is still as dumbfounding as anything else. If you haven’t read Philip Zimbardo’s excellent account of the events, or even if you have, then the film should be fascinating. Still, I have the nagging feeling that it could have been a bit better.

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