The Stanford Prison Experiment


By: Addison Wylie

The Stanford Prison Experiment is fascinating as it is disturbing.  It’s too bad such an inhumane procedure had to take place in real life in order for us to receive this excellent and provocative dramatization.

Stanford’s Dr. Philip Zimbardo took a leap of faith when designing an experiment which positioned 18 young men as guards and prisoners in a makeshift jail located in the basement of the university’s Jordan Hall.  The two-week long set-up was aimed to provide psychological results in terms of how prison’s close-quarters and the meticulous authoritative behaviour of the overseers took its toll.  The experiment would prove to be gruelling, but the violent, outspoken and manipulative reactions would be the most telling outcome of all.  The “guards” tested the limits to their boundless ruling, while the “prisoners” reacted in ways that would span from fearful obedience to vocal revolt.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s relentless film burns itself into our mind, and finds a balance between being a thought-provoking study on the effects and abuse of power, and a controversial first-hand view at how humans surprise themselves with their instinctual choices.  Alvaraz keeps his camera close to the action without having his directorial influence provide a knowing comfort to these portrayals of frayed volunteers.  Screenwriter Tim Talbott (who has served as a writer on various television shows such as Chicago Fire and shockingly enough South Park) uses transcripts from the infamous event itself to give the film a standalone identity through the cause and effect of offensive dominance, misguided invulnerability and the frightened, defensive responses that follow.

The Stanford Prison Experiment also receives great help through a cast of up-and-comers you’ve seen breakout before, and have always hoped they would find a vehicle that would excel them to the forefront – Alvarez’s movie is that project you’ve been waiting for, and that film these actors will be thankful for starring in.  Michael Angarano, Thomas Mann, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, and Tye Sheridan give award-calibre performances.  However, admist the chaos, Billy Crudup’s portrayal of Zimbardo – an educator with an undying passion for his art and a curious guilty pleasure for entertainment – could be the scariest of them all.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is hard to watch, but it’s also one of this year’s most incredible moviegoing experiences.

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