The psychology of human beings never ceases to amaze. There are so many factors that come into play that cause people to act the way that they do. But what happens when college students are put into a prison experiment? Well, it’s something psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) finds out in The Stanford Prison Experiment, based on true events. The film is dark and shows us the worst of humanity with wonderful performances by the cast.
In the basement of the psychology department at Stanford University, 24 college males are selected to take part in a mock experiment. Some of them are assigned the role of guards (Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun) and the remainder are the prisoners (Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Ki Hong Lee) with nothing but numbers to their names. They are given clear instructions about how they were to behave. No beatings or physical attacks, etc. However, after only a day it’s clear that the guards, led by the extremely harsh Christopher Archer (Michael Angarano), have no intention of going easy on the prisoners. Intrigued as to where this is going, Dr. Zimbardo allows them to continue with the neglect and a two week experiment turns into six days.
What there is to enjoy about the film is that it does seek to bring us into the experiment. We’re privy to what’s going on inside the “prison” and also what’s happening on the academic side. To be frank, the most impactful parts of the film are the exit interviews when the guards and prisoners, now back as college students, are discussing the experiment, how they felt during the whole scenario, and why the guards did what they did. The performances by the cast are fantastic, most especially the young actors, who are put into a situation not anticipating the reality of what they are about to face. Their portrayals are realistic, gut wrenching at points, and they make sure to really get into their roles, which makes their situation all the more real and depressing.
The Stanford Prison Experiment isn’t a light-hearted film, but a dark one with disturbing material. It pits humans against our own minds and allows the characters to behave in a manner that is true to form. Taken directly from the source of Dr. Zimbardo’s book, who ran the experiment and let the experiment go so far, the film definitely feels authentic. While it sometimes drags on in certain places and becomes repetitive in its showing of the actions taken by the guards, the film still stands well enough and is able to explore the ugly side of humanity that is very revealing.