My rating is more of a 4.5
Thank you for reading in advance!
The Stanford Prison Experiment is a 2015 American docudrama thriller film directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, written by Tim Talbott, and starring Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Thirlby, and Nelsan Ellis.
Where to begin then the obvious elephant in the room?
Most people may already be familiar with the events this film is based off of, but for those of you that aren't - this is based on an experiment that was ran by a professor Zimbardo at Stanford University in the year 1971. During this experiment 24 students were recruited to act as ‘prisoners’ or ‘guards’ (by random assignment) at a makeshift prison that was intended to last two weeks.
There isn't much that can be said about this event that I am not already aware of, and in an effort to be concise all I can say is that every criticism possible of this experiment has already been offered and published; The subjects, despite being randomly assigned , hardly reflects any amount of diversity that could have made this study have a larger amount of real-world applications. Unanimously identified as unethical in practice, this study has been deemed by many as a dangerous exercise in academic hubris and/or a profound demonstration on the nature of evil.
The reason I say this is just so I'm clear - I'm not here to discuss or rate this film based on how I feel about its source material despite having my own particular opinions about it.
In regards to its accuracy, this is a surprisingly authentic representation of Zimbardo’s work; Despite a few names that are changed in the film many of the elements that may seem “dramatized” or “hollywood” are based on both eye witness accounts and data released about this study to the general public. Even the most heinous of scenes - like those in which prisoners are instructed to carry out sexual behaviors as a means of demeaning them - inch disturbingly close to reality and are worth noting as not being the result of creative choices made by anyone involved in the making of this film. Even Mr. Zimbardo himself has watched this film and acknowledged the portrayal of him as more than fair - in his own words specifically he says it “spares no judgement” in regards to his character or his controversial methods.
The nature and reported emotions felt during this experiment are made palpable through decisions made in the casting, screenwriting, and the set design Department. Lighting and camera angles work to invent an environment that is seemingly claustrophobic and puts audience members in the mindsight of the characters in the film that are currently being focused on. The scores and the dialogue are craftily orchestrated around one-another and captures a meticulous amount of chaos and misery that resonates with viewers. It goes without saying that the performances (Notably, those by Angarano and Miller) create a reasonable amount of tension and make the illusion of prisoners losing sense of time, their separate identities, and their connection with the outside world all-the-more believable.
Surprisingly enough, ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ Makes an attempt at sneaking in interactions that speak to the largest criticisms of this experiment. Furthermore, it is made very clear that this experiment is now considered ultimately unethical, but it would have benefited from making these points more overt even if done as a collection of words that scroll as the credits begin showing. Perhaps even worst of all, one of the positive results of this experiment is given no amount of acknowledgement despite the context in which it occurs (There have been various alterations made to how prisons have been run in America since this experiment having been completed). The absence of these don’t necessarily take away from the quality and value of this film - but the inclusion of them would have taken this just a few more steps towards an ethically-sensible direction.
Despite being an account of a most uncomfortable event in history ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ stands out as a bold and ultimately factual rendition; it bends few rules and leaves even less to the imagination
I would recommend!