Sometimes I think that if guys like Freud, Plato and Thomas Aquinas (take that A-Level philosophy, I still remember some shit…)  were alive today, they wouldn’t be philosophers, they’d be movie reviewers. You can interpret more about human behaviour in the two hours it takes to watch a movie than you ever could evaluating 100 patients. I also think they’d like Desperate Housewives…

Anyway, a prime example of this 2 hour pop psych eval, is the movie The Experiment. If you know anything about this movie, well then I’m already expecting your ridicule. Why? Well because this movie is a remake of a German film. I know right… Shock horror, I’ve stabbed you all in the back! I revealed that I hate remakes, in fact I despise them and suddenly I’m throwing this very notion back in your faces… Well – no. Firstly, this is a true story and it was also a book. Therefore I wouldn’t necessarily call it remade… Just reimagined. And I know that is the same lame excuse movie studios give every day when they make piece-of-crap remakes… But I’m actually being sincere here. So give me the benefit of the doubt if you please.

So to the movie…

What’s it about?
Adrien Brody finally puts in another credible performance as a pacifist member of a social experiment in which 26 men are locked up together in order to simulate life in a state penitentiary (thats prison to you and I…). The twist? Well a number of the men are chosen to be guards of the prison, and are told no violence is allowed, yet they must make sure the inmates abide by a set of rules. If these rules are broken, they can punish, but not harm… The interesting part was being told that if violence did occur, then a siren and a red light would go off, the experiment would end and no one would get paid.

What they didn’t realise was that the experiment wasn’t about simulating prison at all but rather about whether ordinary, none violent people would maintain a moral compass rather than assuming the red light would tell them when they’d gone too far. The short answer is they didn’t. Each horrific act of psychological, physical or sexual torture was justified by, “If we had gone too far, the red light would have gone off.” In just 3 days, the chilled, friendly system was broken down and people assumed their primative positions as predator, oppressor or leader. And the worst thing was, they did so willingly and with enjoyment.

Let’s break it down…
Forest Whitaker played the leader of the guards who began the movie as a smartly dressed friendly guy who had probably never even raised his voice in anger before. So why the huge change? Well it wasn’t necessarily a big jump for him. His flashbacks showed a man who spent his adult life mentally abused by his invalid mother. He didn’t know how to stand up for himself. So when he was finally given the opportunity to take back some of the control he had so desperately craved for – he took it, he enjoyed it (to the point of sexual arousal) and he quickly spiralled out of control, both physically and mentally. Climaxing with all of his counterparts, who had initially been abusers along side him, telling him he was crazy and out of control – which is ironic given that is the one thing he craved. Messed up – I know.

However, out of all the guards, the only one I’d consider to have possibly been dangerous before even entering the experiment, it would be Cam Gigadnet’s character. He was what can only be described as a sex addict long before the film introduces him. Am I saying all sex addicts are dangerous? Of course not. But the backbone of this movie is that these individuals are placed into a manufactured high pressure environment. Which brings out the worse in people. Just as Forrest’s character was pushed and spiralled into a psychopath addicted to humiliation and control – Gigadnet’s became a sexual offender. However, it was a trait high on the surface all along. This was demonstrated by him in the beginning of the experiment,when he singled out his victim and tried to get him to expose his genitals. All it took was for him to get the opportunity to act on those violent urges for them to surface. Which they did.

Another interesting concept was Adrien Brodie’s character, nicknamed (against his will) 77, also spiraling, not into abuse but into a feeling of injustice. This is a man who said he didn’t even condone violence if the rapist/murderer of someone he loved was set free. And yet, 5 days into the experiment he is viscously beating Whitaker – who was most definitely the manufacturer of his suffering, which included head shaving, having his head shoved into a toilet and being urinated on – into a bloody pulp. It is here, when both guards and prisoners are acting at their most primative, and after one prisoner has already been killed, that the red light finally flashes. And then, as the door opens allowing escape, in the cold light of day, they are all seen to be equals again. Although they are most definitely not the same men.

Brody returns to his girlfriend, also a pacifist, looking like a broken man. And the two easy weeks that he thought he’d be spending in some simple psych experiment, made him face challenges and demons that he had before criticised and ridiculed.

The film was summed up nicely in the last few lines. When asked by another ‘inmate’ whether he still thought they were not like monkeys referencing an animalistic and primative nature, Brody replied “No, as we have a choice.” The choice in this instance being to forget about what it is that makes us human.

Overall, a solid thought provoking movie.


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