Based on the study of the same name the film gives us a real look into the Stanford Prison Experiment in the 70s were a bunch of students were, by a coin flip, separated into the roles of guards and prisoners and left to simulate a prison environment for two weeks.
Starring Ezra Miller and Billy Crudup and released back in 2015 it is a actual look not only at the experiment itself but the mindset behind the people running it.
I found it much more fascinating then the German and American Experiment films. Both of them focused too much on the violence in my opinion and whilst I loved both films actually having a film about the original Experiment itself was interesting to watch.
Away from all the blood and gore it was very much a simple look into human nature. How taking away people’s rights effected them and how giving people too much power over those people would corrupt.
For me the interesting part was how the prisoners just never took the experiment that seriously until the guards become sadistic and crazy. Everyone I’ve talked to about the film since always focus on how over the top the guards were but from the moment the experiment started and they were assigned to their cells Prisoner 8612 and to a lesser extent Prisoner 819 just did NOT take the experiment seriously. Through protests of other prisoners telling them it would be easier just to do as the guards say they constantly talked when they weren’t meant to, showed no respect to the guards or the rules and caused the majority of the problems.
Sure the guards were over the top, did push boundaries and were absolute assholes but the moment the guards realised that they were able to push past any reasonable boundary was only after usually either 8612 or 819 did something that they shouldn’t have been doing. Sure the Count that the Guard nicknamed John Wayne made them do was unfair, the punishments were unneeded but that guard was out to be a dick from the moment he stepped in pretending to be a character out of a film. When 819 was thrown in the hole after calling a guard a fascist pig it was all down to him not listening, not respecting the authority of the guard or doing as he was told. The rules of exercise time wasn’t “you do this amount of all this and that is it” it was “you finish these and anything the guards tell you to do” and when he finished before everyone else and was told to continue doing push ups if he’d just agreed he’d never have been in trouble.
This then led to the “riot” where 819 blocked up his cell which meant the other prisoners lost their bedding. It also led to one prisoner being hogtied.
Obviously they did decide to pick on 8612 who was the biggest pain in the ass in the world, I’m not saying they were right too, but again so many people say that the experiment should have ended when the guard hit him. No the experiment should have been stopped moments before when 8612 himself attacked the guard. In actual fact when he was thrown in the hole with 819 he seemed pretty proud of himself and they both continued to ignore the rules.
This lead to the guards realising that they could do whatever they wanted. They didn’t turn to violence but just got down right nasty. The people in charge were too interested in seeing where it was going to realise that it had gone sour and that too many things had happened that just wouldn’t happen in reality. It was no longer a prison simulation or a experiment, it was watching a group of people slowly raising in confidence of their power over another group.
When 8612 and 819 finally got broken down and had to leave it left the ones who actually DID take the experiment seriously alone with a bunch of people who were now enjoying basically being able to act in a way that they knew was wrong. They had been given the all clear to basically be bullies to the prisoners who if they had at this point just been treated the way they had been at the beginning of the experiment instead of how the guards had got used to having to treat them when they rallied behind the two trouble makers would have probably had a OK time getting to the end of the 2 weeks.
The thing is people can sit there and say that they wouldn’t do that if they were them and you possibly won’t but people do have a darker side to them. How many people play games that let you kill people or do bad things? It doesn’t mean you’d go out there and do it yourself no but this was role playing in reality and there were so many times when someone should have come down to the experiment and said “look just do the job we told you to do” and none of it would have happened. The people in charge were so busy wanting it to feel real that they allowed the prisoners not to take it seriously and the guards to take it too seriously which lead to the guards having to act rough with the prisoners who wouldn’t listen to the guards.
I guess what I’m getting at is this movie is really good. The fact that I could sit here and discuss the actual films experiment means that it got the message of the film through. It didn’t feel like watching a film it felt like watching a experiment and the cast played it great. You got so hooked on what was going on and trying to figure out why these people were doing what they were doing that you just lost track of the fact you were watching a film.
I have to say that Michael Angarano as John Wayne was probably the best part of the film. He walked in deciding to play a character and push people until they pushed back, he did it within the authority he had and I can’t remember him ever getting violent, the final straw when Zimbardo (Crudup) finally ended the experiment was as sadistic as he got. The removal of privileges and the rest might have seemed unfair but at the same time what do you do when people just don’t respect you or the rules? He was sadistic but you kind of wanted to curl up in his head and understand what he wanted to get out of this.
The final interview with him and Prisoner 8612 (Miller) was interesting because 8612 continued to be his usual moany self whilst John Wayne explained himself. The difference between their roles was a flip of the coin and to be honest the way Miller played his character I could easily see him having been just as into being a guard as he was not into being a prisoner. At no point did the guard ask him why he never took his role seriously but from day 1 he found it boring and wanted to cause trouble for the guards and I find it funny that was never brought up.
I really would recommend the film. Even if the experiment isn’t your thing it is a interesting film about human nature and very well acted. Its on NowTV at the moment and well worth a watch.