Das Experiment (The Experiment) (2001)

459436_f520Based on a true story, the “Stanford Prison Experiment”, some of the scenes of which are featured are actually based on true events during the experiment, the German originated thriller “Das Experiment” gives a true glimpse into the human psyche. There’s this great Looney Tunes episode (aren’t they all?) in which a truck filled with hats falls off the back and scatters along the forest where Elmer Fudd happens to be chasing Bugs Bunny; while they’re in pursuit, the hats happen to fall onto their heads and they take on the characteristics of the hats (Ex: Cop hat: Policeman, Magician Hat: Magician); why I bring up such an obscure pop culture reference is that “Das Experiment” poses the question that that cartoon did, “If put in a particular role for a certain number of time will we act upon the role?”

In the film many of the people tend to take an underlying psychological role-taking of what they’re assigned to act as. In this horrifying film, we witness a group of average men who enroll in an experiment; an experiment that is not explained yet. We watch as some of the average men (one a taxi driver, one a store owner) are put into two groups; eight are put into the role of security guards while twelve posed as prisoners; they then are put into a mock prison model and forced to act as if it was a real prison. The prisoners are given strict orders and the guards must enforce order without violence; soon much begins to happen among the once friendly men and their roles begin to consume their very being and anarchy begins. Some of the scenes despite being well-written border on the pretentious including many of the dream sequences which stuck out like a sore thumb and really bore no relevance to the film and its story. Thought beautifully directed these scenes seemed unnecessary and often times distracted and slowed down the pace of the story.

The scene where Prisoner 77 is also hard to understand since the low budget prompted the director to show a night vision camera rather than a regular film camera. This stunning and often disturbing glimpse into the human psyche gives us these men who at first are all buddy/buddy joking with each other and exchanging witty remarks up until we watch the men who are playing security guards start to feel violated by their friends’ lack of respect and they soon get militant; when prisoner 77 (Moritz Bleibtreu: ) begins making waves and challenging the guards, the guard are told to do whatever they can to achieve order among the cell without violence. Little do the two scientists know that violence may be the easier solution to what they resort to. Soon, a fun experiment becomes very serious and a lot more of an intense trip than an high maintenance prison can muster up as the guards become more and more demanding, strict, and vicious. At one scene they gag a prisoner shave off his hair and pee on him while he screams in the dark and the taunting continues.

This film gives us the theory that if a human is put into a certain role for a number of time will they soon take on the characteristics and mannerisms of the character they’re supposed be. There’s been comedy movies where men posed as women and took on their mannerisms sub-consciously after having been posing as the woman a long period of time, and the film shows as the men who are supposed to act like prisoners act like prisoners and the men supposed to act like guards act like guards — oh boy do they act like violent guards. As the scientists watch the violence increase and purposely do nothing about it they watch the worst of human nature and human violence as claustrophobia begins to ensue. We watch the men so afraid of humiliation break down to whimpering humans peeing on themselves, shivering and some even breaking down emotionally; this is a startling and sometimes disturbing portrayal of the human mind as we’re given small quarters and roles to play and watch as these people startlingly and slowly become these characters.

All sensibility and sense of reality tends to slowly evaporate the more time the men spend together in this mock jail cell and all soon begin to lose sense of who they once were. Can this happen to us? It’s possible and that’s what makes this film more and more terrifying and disturbing to watch as the story progresses. Carnage and violence ensue among the men, violence I won’t dare reveal to you, but the climax of this film is very daunting and staggering and thankfully never cliché. We watch these men simply act upon the roles they were given and act upon “The Experiment” with a little too much success. I said it before and I’ll say it again, you want good horror and thrillers, you got’s to go to the foreigners! They can cook up a mighty thriller! Despite reservations I was shocked, disgusted, and appalled but it’s the exact affect the director went for. Never has there been such a chilling portrait of the human psyche.