In the early 1970s, Stanford University Professor Phillip Zimbardo gathered twenty-four university students, split them up half and half as either guards or prisoners, and placed them in a makeshift prison in the basement of one of Stanford’s academic buildings.
Although the experiment was set to run for two weeks, it was shut down after six days following continuous psychological abuse of the prisoners by the guards. This experiment, which came to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, is arguably the most infamous psychological study of the 20th century.
Creating a film such as this, that follows both an iconic and incredibly emotional event could have easily been overly dramatized or made so visceral that it becomes almost impossible to watch. However, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment seemed to find the perfect balance. It showed exactly how the experiment so greatly affected those involved and why its publicity forced the establishment of experiment ethics. It followed the journeys of the boys involved as well as Zimbardo and his team as a way to show why it was a matter of situation that caused the abuse to persist as it did. The direction and writing made sure to show no character as inherently sadistic or abusive by nature, the exact thing that made the experiment so groundbreaking.
In addition to the writing and the direction, the star-studded cast did not disappoint in their work to bring the subjects of the experiment to life. The cast, which included actors such as Ezra Miller, Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, and Thomas Mann, followed closely to the public footage and tapes of the original experiment to embody the key players of the study. There are numerous scenes in the movie that directly mirrored highlights from the tapes that have been shown in numerous documentaries and Psychology 101 classes.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is truly a model film in the way that it both teaches the audience about the experiment and also engages through the excellent writing, direction, and acting. The emotional responses that the film creates shows that it is truly engrossing as emotions are at a high until the very end. Whether the goal is to learn about an infamous Stanford study or to see an interesting and simply great movie, The Stanford Prison Experiment will reward.
A Q&A followed the screening featuring director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and actor Ezra Miller. Alvarez explained how the film came to be through looking at all the available footage and recordings of the original experiment and implanting them into the script and direction. Miller talked about the challenges of keeping the emotions at high without going overboard, especially because of the extreme emotions of the original experiment shown in the tapes. Other aspects were discussed such as challenges with hair and makeup during scenes, cutting down the film a full hour after filming was finished, and scheduling the cast in such a short period of time.
The film hits theaters July 17 via IFC Films.
Photocredit: ET Online