Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Experiment (2010)

The power hungry, the pacifist and the conformers

This is a film with a message about losing sight of what it means to be a civilized human being in modern times and if violence should equate into our decisions and motivations when interacting with each other. It goes beyond the usual white lab coat behavioral experiment when an elaborate scenario is created that takes a group of participants, who want to make a chunk of change, by simulating the conditions in a state penitentiary for those who've never been in to demonstrate if power would be abused.

After Travis (Adrien Brody) gets laid off from a nursing home, he protests a war and finds love. She wants to go to India, he doesn't have cash, so he spots an ad in the paper offering $1000 a day for an experiment. How hard could it be? Soon enough the participants fill out paperwork (easy), get individually interviewed (sounds fun), put through visual tests (not so great) and then sit through an orientation with a speedy talker (show me the money!). He makes it all sound so "safe" and "secure," expect a clue comes when he slips in that some subjects will be deprived of their civil rights. Get 'em to say yes a bunch of times and anybody making a pitch won't have any trouble dodging that no. Off they go.

They're brought to an isolated location and are to be locked in for two weeks by themselves with only cameras to watch. The test subjects are divided into two groups of guards and prisoners and given specific rules that they must follow or else nonviolent disciplinary action is to be given from the guards. If the guards don't follow accordingly a red light will be turned on in 30 minutes and the experiment will be terminated resulting in no one getting paid. Some focus on the money and block it out. Others can't handle the stress of dropping what pride, beliefs and creature comforts they had beforehand. And then there are those that take it a little too seriously either because this is their chance in life to be taken so or they actually enjoy taking advantage of others when granted the go-ahead from a higher authority. Soon enough the weaker start to fall in line and the stronger step out in an attempt to stand by their points. Two personalities collide on opposite sides with Travis (Adrien Brody) representing the prisoner's rights and Michael (Forest Whitaker) helming the guards with no-nonsense, totalitarian order.

Part of this was based on the real life Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. However, there are some differences, as this attempts to show how it would have ended up if the head scientist wasn't directly involved in the decision making processes during the experiment, as well as it doesn't have him set a tone to guide a certain way. Results also happen within only a few days out from the start with here poor impulse control such as alcohol abuse, as well as gross humiliations, torture, attempted rape and a few of the guys might have been dictators in a past life with their penchant for well timed out speeches. Yeah, it's all going to seem exaggerated, not necessarily for what could be done, but how the specific scenes were set up as it didn't completely put the audience in their shoes and its believability starts to dwindle after more and more scenarios are stacked on.

It's strange to set this in modern times, as there are stricter ethical guidelines and background checks that would test for mental instability and diseases due to the original experiment. It made it seem like these trained professionals went out of their way to deceive and purposely show inaction to see results without actually explaining or showing why--by being kept completely in the dark, it almost makes them diabolical. Not to mention if there weren't several dominating personalities in guard positions (which seemed to be purposely put there)--or even prisoners who took it seriously at first, however you look at it--it's questionable whether this would have gone the same.

They didn't try and make this an exceptional case out of a bunch, but the only one tested apparently, which isn't enough to see if it was just a fluke. It seems over-elaborate to jeopardize their professional careers as there are now established rules in place; as well as for the sum of money they were giving out and the design of the facility to put all their eggs in one basket. It also only shows how a set of people temporarily put in authority positions will react in the heat of the moment resulting in their perspective being off to find a reasonable middle ground--rather than in a real and established prison system that would have a guideline in place from an extended period of trial and error.

The ending winded down a little too easily as they were well behaved going in, animalistic inside, then instantaneously regretful, so the filmmakers could quickly put the blame elsewhere for what the participants did. As a cinematic experience that goes for entertainment value alone, "The Experiment" has some particular areas where the actors shine, has a steady pacing that wasn't in one area for too long, and it still left room to think about some "what if?" questions even if it seemed to have somewhat of an agenda that leans towards a certain side at points. Though it's a movie where more of it seems fine at first as everything is happening so fast, but when the brain settles down afterwards too many questionable things occurred and it might make one's head spin more than inspire productive debate.

Rating: 3/10

Director: Paul Scheuring (producer/writer of "Prison Break")
Stars: Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, Cam Gigandet
Link: IMDB

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