One of the most unique experiments in the field of psychology took place in the Summer of 1971, in Northern California’s Stanford University. An experiment which tested the very nature of a humans ability to exert power, and the extent to which such power would be tyrannical or just. Whether seemingly normal, good people can be changed into bad, evil people based both the status they are given and the environment that they are put into. That experiment was the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The concept was simple; a seemingly normal group of young adults were split randomly into guards and prisoners and put into a prison like environment in an entirely staged experiment. The guards wielding complete power over the students with the ability to punish in various forms, except that of a physical nature.
What this cinematic version of events done incredibly well was to make you very much a part of the action. The sense of compassion you feel for the prisoners in so many of the gruelling scenes was incredibly uneasy. Some great solo performances brought a genuine sense of fear and even anger to not only my own experience but also my fellow viewers. What was most fascinating was not necessarily the speed of which prisoners ‘fell into line’ as it were, rather the speed in which the ‘guards’ sense of power corrupted them. from the first opportunity (some of) the guards got to exert their authority, they did so in a rather disturbing and inhumane fashion.
Although the timeline of events seemed to be altered slightly, these set of events seemed to translate to a movie pretty well. Rather overdramatised at times in the way the guards took advantage of the prisoners, this can be taken differently depending on the viewer. Some may revel in the progressive obscenity of the events, however others may simply be all too disturbed.
The scope of the movie is perhaps the only thing that unquestionably lets the movie down though however. Meant in so far as the plot does not expand too much outside the experiment itself, there are no real plot developments into the consequences or any other subplots for that matter (apart from a rather forced romantic element with Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Dr. Christina Maslach, in which seemed predictable from the off that she had some sort of integral role). This however does not detract from the presentation of the experiment and how well indeed it was brought to the big screen.
The character development is a major part of this movie that really stands out, alongside the performances themselves. Individual character arcs are so very apparent in the way each prisoner and guard for that mater deals with the situation they are put in. And not only that but how they respond to the situation, in so far as to the way certain participants loose all sense of reality and that it is in fact an experiment.
Above all that, it is incredible to see such a famous and important experiment brought to the big screen in a way that is incredibly visceral, touching and real. It raised a lot of questions at the time in so far as to the reasoning behind the participants reactions, and this movie does that very thing. It is incredibly easy to say ‘I would never do that to someone’, however we don’t really know what we are capable of as a person until we are put into an environment such as this with ultimate power, a telling story of how power does indeed corrupt. 7/10