The Stanford Prison Experiment - Review
Review - Matt Mungle
**In select theaters July 31, 2015**
Synopsis: Twenty-four male students out of seventy-five were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.
Review: The 1970's were a time of change, growth, and social exploration in America. The pre-internet age was more personal and communal. Bottom line people were more trusting and less entitled than the current age. The Stanford Prison Experiment would not work today and that is what makes the film not only intriguing but far more disturbing. True life usually is.
Stanford University psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) had what he thought was a fantastic idea. Twenty-four young students answered a help wanted ad for a 2-week job paying pretty decent 70's money. The experiment seemed straight forward enough. 12 guards and 12 "prisoners" in the deserted halls of the psych building. 14 days with constant monitoring by Zimbardo and his colleagues to study how individuals deal with power and authority. What they didn't anticipate was how quickly the situation would escalate. What they thought would be a dull two weeks is at a breaking point in 48 hours.
The tension in the film is a constant pulse that builds and intensifies with each tick of the clock. We watch along with Zimbardo as the young men take their roles to the extreme. Disturbing does not quite sum up the feeling that creeps over you as you watch. You have to wonder when someone on staff will step in and let them off the hook. But at the same time this is what the study was to show. No one knew that the reactions would be as they are.
Casting in this movie project was as important as the choosing of the original subjects back in 1971. It is a who's who of young, up and coming indie film talent. Ezra Miller, Nicholas Braun, and Johnny Simmons (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and Tye Sheridan (Mudd/Joe) are just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone gives 110% to deliver earth shattering roles. They breath not only the essence of the 70's but also the mindset of young men of that decade. Tim Talbott's script is elevated and enhanced but the ensemble cast.
I am not sure how much actual footage of the real experiment exists today but it would have been an added benefit to see some of that in this. If nothing else as the credits were rolling. This would have solidified the story and helped to wrap up the emotional journey. Dr. Zimbardo is still lecturing and to hear from him would also have given more merit. It is hard to believe that all of the recordings of the experiment were lost or destroyed.
As mentioned earlier this story is disturbing and intriguing due to how the "prisoners" allowed the "guards" to say ad do what they did. The rational of the students was one of acceptance and doing what they were hired to do. It is safe to say that in this day and age the sense of entitlement that possess many young people in our country would have led to much different results. Many would have quit or simply walked away; feeling their rights were being in some way mangled.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is rated R for language including abusive behavior and some sexual references. It is a highly adult film with strong language and themes. Many will be a bit shocked and want to turn away from the content. That alone speaks volumes to the experiment as a whole, and why it ended as it did. I give it 4 out of 5 pair of sunglasses. Look for this one around award season, especially for this young cast.