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DAS EXPERIMENT, 2001
Movie Reviews!

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DAS EXPERIMENT,   MOVIE POSTERDAS EXPERIMENT, 2001
Movie Reviews

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Stephan Szasz, Polat Dal
Review by Stefan Leverton


SYNOPSIS:

The movie is based on the infamous "Stanford Prison Experiment" conducted in 1971. A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab, complete with cells, bars and surveillance cameras. For two weeks 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The 'prisoners' are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the 'guards' are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit at any time, thereby forfeiting payment. In the beginning the mood between both groups is insecure and rather emphatic. But soon quarrels arise and the wardens employ ever more drastic sanctions to confirm their authority.

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REVIEW:

In terms of plaudits this film has gone almost under the radar in terms of world cinema, but has developed something of a cult following, especially as viewers can’t help but recommend others to watch it. And I’m just the same this is a gripping, shocking thriller that slowly draws you in and violently spits you out in a frantic climax.

Part of its shocking nature stems from the fact it is based on true events. The 1971 ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ took 20 males and divided them into guards and prisoners, and monitored their behaviour. The Experiment was brought to a controversial conclusion, when the ‘guards’ took their role far too seriously. In the film we enter the story through struggling journalist Tarek, played by the familiar Moritz Bleibtreu, who happens upon, what he hopes will be a juicy story, an advertisement in a newspaper for participants in an experiment lead by the local university.

From then on the experiment itself plays out with no real surprises. The film, like the experiment itself is a study of power and authority. How people’s characters and personality change given such exceptional circumstances, a lot of which is born out of peoples reasons for entering the experiment, which is dealt with very well by the film. The characterisation isn’t remarkable or innovative but befits the situation so well that it is utterly believable. That is down to a great cast, in particular its lead, who in German cinema at least is renowned from such delights as Run Lola Run and is now, pleasingly, cutting his teeth in English language productions such as Munich and The Walker. He is very natural and convincing and as the antagonist, Tarek, is the only one to keep sight of the task they’ve been asked to carry out, while other more edgy and fraught characters immerse themselves dangerously in their roles.

The Guards obviously have their own hierarchy, lead by the truly hateful character Berus (actor Justus Von Dohnanyi inspiring comparisons to Percy in the Green Mile and looking a little like William Sadler who played the Grim reaper in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey). What the guards reveal though is humanities nature to let atrocious situations develop, for group mentality to prevail and quash the individual censor and rational mind.

For that Das Experiment is more than just a good thriller, it’s also a thought provoking study of the human condition, which a lot of truly great films are. Das Experiment asks you the question, what would you do in that situation? Many would say if they were prisoners they would stand up for their right or if they were guards they wouldn’t let such behaviour occur, but honestly, you just can’t be sure. What is sure is that the climax of the film is both terrifying and exhilarating, it will stay with afterwards and I can testify to it being just as engrossing on repeat viewings.

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