The Stanford Prison Experiment 2.0 stars

Stanford Prison Experiment movie poster

In 1971, Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo decided to investigate "how an institution affects individual behavior" by hiring a bunch of students to portray guards and prisoners in a mock prison. This is the story of that, albeit in well-acted, fictionalized form. The goings-on "inside" are queasily fascinating at first, as the "guards" adjust to their role as protocol-driven overlords. (Nearly everyone requested prisoner status, since "no one likes guards," and roles were assigned by coin flip.) One in particular decides to go full Cool Hand Luke and embarks on a master class in petty sadism. (He's able to get remarkable psyche-warfare mileage from simply having the "prisoners" line up and sound off their ID numbers to his satisfaction.) The film works hard to keep up the suspense: how far will the guards go? How much can the prisoners take? At what point, if any, will Zimbardo and his team intervene? And is his experiment scientific? Objective? Humane? Worthwhile? The answers range from mildly alarming to murky to ambiguous to unsatisfying, which may indicate an admirable regard for both the historical record and human psychology, but makes for an oddly enervating experience. 2015.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.


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