The experiments led by famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram have been well documented. Many a word has been written about his projects, especially the ones concerning individual’s obedience to authority. Having grown up in a Jewish family in New York, and witnessing the tragedies of the Holocaust, Stanley became curious regarding why human beings are able to commit the most horrible crimes without hesitation as long as they were ordered to commit them.
And so, the film begins. Peter Sarsgaard plays Dr. Stanley, the Experimenter, as he sets up the famous 1961 experiment that would lead him to fame and controversy within his field. Place one individual connected to an electric shock machine (a machine that doesn’t do anything at all), and a “teacher” who has to shock him every time he gets a wrong answer, increasing the voltage each time. As the movie tells us, the experiment shows the subjects were more than willing to keep ramping up the voltage, regardless of the supposed pain the other person was receiving, since they were asked to keep going with the experiment no matter what.
With an in depth explanation of the experiment, the unwitting participants, and the ramifications of the findings, the film offers a great insight into the mind of Mr. Milgram, and into the psyche of human behaviour. Showing other influential experiments led by Stanley and his peers, we take a journey through some of Stanley’s key moments in life, from watching Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Israel, to finding love in his wife-to-be Sasha (Winona Ryder).
With great performances across the board, including the many subjects of the social experiments, the main issue of the film is its pacing. It seems to be stuck in the same gear through most of its running time, not offering enough of the conflict that was surely felt by Stanley when the public and his peers started noticing the moral ramifications of conducting these sort of studies.
With some interesting visual choices, like the use of black and white backgrounds in some scenes, or really old school driving effects in others, director Michael Almereyda certainly shows a flair for grounding these experiments to a general audience. Deftly going from experiment to experiment, and always coming back to the main “electric shock” one, it’s a great life story of a man whose research yielded results that left lingering questions about humanity. As an audience, you’ll have the same feelings. You have been warned.
Experimenter is available in DVD and VOD platforms from 29th February 2016. You can watch it on http://po.st/Experimenter