Rambling About The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

Nutshell Ramble

A riveting look into a very interesting real life experiment conducted by a group of unsuspecting individuals who had no clue about their own capabilities.



Full Ramble

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a 2015 psychological thriller-drama directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, written by Tim Talbott and stars Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Michael Angarano, Kier Gilchrist, Olivia Thirlby and a host of other young actors. The film chronicles the events of the experiment of the same name conducted in 1971 by Dr. Philip Zimbardo.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a very fascinating film to watch. I am quite steadfast in my belief that if this film contained actors who aren’t fairly well known, it could pass off as a documentary. The film is shot with an uncomfortable level of proximity to the characters who are the prisoners and the guards and that created a never ending sense of dread for me personally. In the interest of full disclosure, I had read about this experiment and a few others a couple of years ago and to satisfy my curiosity, I went ahead and watched a few documentaries related to the subject. Those documentaries and this film left me asking questions of myself and the possible levels of depravity I could sink to without me realizing it. I’m quite certain this film could do the same to most other viewers.

It is a task of mammoth proportions for a person like me to view this film or this story objectively. I am a guy who finds great pleasure in dissecting the human mind and stories like this one are in my wheelhouse. The objective opinion I had which knock the film down by a few pegs is the character of Philip Zimbardo as played by Billy Crudup. It is not a bad performance per se but the characterization offered to him is weak. The film shows a gradual progression with all the other characters but skimps on doing the same with him. A few scenes depicting his conflict and contrast could have worked wonders in elevating the film. There are a few prisoners and guards who get a bit less character development than the others and spending some time with them could have made for a more wholesome experience.

The film’s uncomfortable silence, the artistic choice of using blurring techniques, the clever use of a confined setting to avoid excessive production costs, the feeling of claustrophobia it induces and finally, the important moral quandary the film leaves you with are more than enough to make up for any shortcomings it may possess. Saying anything more about the film would be spoiling it for readers who aren’t familiar with the source material.

I will, however, give you a synopsis of the experiment to let you know what you are getting into. A group of students were recruited by Dr. Philip Zimbardo in 1971 to simulate the experience of being in a prison environment. They are divided into two groups, one who are guards and the other who are prisoners. The experiment was conducted to observe the effects a prison could have on guards and prisoners. But unbeknownst to them, they were also recording the effects said experiment can have on the higher authorities as well.


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