Das Experiment (2001)
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Actors: Moritz Bleibtreu, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski
Runtime: 114 min
Exceptionally tense and dynamic movie that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat. Although it isn’t mentioned at any point, the film is largely based on actual events – in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University professor Philip Zimbardo set an experiment in which the basement of the Department of Psychology was converted into a prison and the group of 24 volunteers was randomly divided into guards and prisoners. Main goal of this research was exploring the social and psychological consequences of putting people in groups of unequal power.
The guards began to abuse prisoners, and they all began to lose out of their consciousness the boundary between experiment and reality, including the psychologist, who, instead of managing the experiment, began to run the prison that he himself made. However, unlike in the case of the actual experiment which was stopped as soon as the situation began to more seriously get out of control, in Das Experiment researchers lose all control over the experiment and situation fully escalates.
I strongly recommend this remarkable movie, and I would also advise that before watching Das Experiment you take a look at half-hour BBC’s documentary about the actual events, “The Stanford prison experiment” where, beside Professor Zimbardo, we hear stories of the participants of the experiment: former “guards” and “prisoners”.
Das Experiment opens some very important and interesting topics. Some of them are obvious such as the questions of obedience to authority, dehumanization and cruel treatment. However, the real questions concern the nature of the system in which we live. After watching this movie you will, I hope, agree that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and also that people are not born cruel or evil, but they are made that way trough social relations and life circumstances. This simple makeshift prison is an excellent model that provides insight into the functioning of all repressive and authoritarian systems.
You can download this film or watch it online.