Rated: R for strong disturbing violence including a rape, language, some sexual content and nudity.
Length: 96 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A
Box Office: N/A Intended for theaters, released straight to DVD
Written by: Paul Scheuring (Prison Break TV), based on the novel by Mario Giordano and the German film “Das Experiment” by Mario Giordano, Christoph Darnstadt, Don Bohlinger, and Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Directed by: Paul Scheuring (First film)
Starring: Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker
With: Cam Gigandet
In a movie imaginatively adapted from the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment and a remake of the German film “Das Experiment,” subjects are selected for psychological characteristics and then placed into a fake prison with some as guards and others as inmates. As they take on their roles, trouble develops and things start to get out of hand, but the experiment goes on.
Entertainment Value: A
This is one of those films where I just scratch my head. The characters are fascinating. The plot is gripping, especially since it has at least some basis in reality. And the philosophical implications of the thing are beyond rich. But for whatever reason, this didn’t release at theaters and went straight to DVD. For my own part, knowing its release history, I was skeptical about how enthusiastic the promotional posters were, but I trusted Brody and Whitaker to do something at least not awful. Suffice it to say I was blown away. This is not pretty, and there are parts that are horrific in shocking ways, but it captivated me the entire time.
Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D, Violence D, Language F
There is some alcohol consumption. There’s lots and lots of R rated language. There is a sexual assault, some viewing of pornographic magazines, and some nudity in the previews. The violence is all hand-to-hand, not guns, with a death and very little bloodshed, but there are a variety of taboo-breaking violations and scenes that are uncomfortable to watch even though not violent, strictly speaking. This is definitely a movie only for adults.
Significant Content: F/A
Warning. To discuss this movie, I’m going to spoil all the major plot elements. Read on only if you hope to see it and want to do so without knowing the events in advance.
Alright, this is a movie that really depends for its meaning on the interpretation one gives to it. First of all, one key to the movie is the set-up device that there are a list of specific rules that must be followed, and if they are not, the experiment will be stopped. This will cost all the participants their $10,000 fee. Although there are cameras (almost) everywhere, the only feedback from the experiment conductors is a red light which will come on only in the event that the experiment is being ended. Throughout the movie, there is constant concern that the red light will come on because it seems a line has been crossed, but it doesn’t, and this is always interpreted as permission to continue. Since as the experiment progresses, things become more and more barbaric, we soon figure out that the experiment is meant to represent this world and the light staying off represents the choice by God to let the world continue and not destroy it, intervene in it, or judge it. So it has hefty religious implications. (Although this connection is never made overtly, it would be terribly naïve to think it wasn’t intended by the writer/director.) So what’s the point? Well, the main message seems to be that God is a tyrannical evil being who, like the experimenters, continues to permit terrible evil (far worse than that which occurs in this movie) without stopping it when He could. And if this is the point, then the movie is a fairly powerful formulation of the problem of evil against the existence of a good, powerful God. Hence, an F for significant content. But wait, there’s more. What someone who isn’t paying much attention might miss is the fact that the participants were not even remotely selected at random. This is not meant to be a test of how ordinary people do under bizarre circumstances. The experimenters absolutely know they have put a very particular mix of people in their roles that will lead to brutality and oppression by the guards, the leader of which is a mama’s boy raised in a repressively religious (!) home just bursting for a chance to be in control for once. Now, not only does the experimenter’s inaction look bad for them, but we are horrified to realize they intended things to go wrong like this. Yet another “God is evil, see?” sort of commentary. But wait, there’s more.
The entire point of the experiment and creating it so that evil will occur is to deliberately create a scenario in which a man who claims to love peace and avoid fighting but who cares very deeply about justice and protecting the weak will be pushed to the limits of his pacifism to see whether or not he will resort to violence to stop extreme bullying. That’s the entire point of the experiment. Can a “good man” who will hold to his principles under the worst sort of pressure be found? And of course, Brody fails and ends up assaulting Whitaker in the most justifiable use of violence imaginable. Only then does the experiment stop. So, if anything, it winds up proving that human beings are really all the same underneath. No one is truly capable of living up to their moral proclamations. We’re all beasts underneath, and only a naïve fool would think otherwise.
But this is where the movie and my analysis of it start to really swing around. Adrian Brody is the best humanity has to offer, but under the worst of treatment, he responds with violence. In other words, even the best humanism fails. The experimenters were looking for a savior and they did not find one. But what does this immediately point to? A man who suffered far worse brutality in Himself and to those He loved, but when pushed to the edge of it all, He accepted His fate and even prayed for those who were torturing Him. So, as a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by contrast (!), one could scarcely invent a better script than this. Make what you will of the problem of evil question, but in the actual experiment being permitted by an actually Sovereign God, His response was not to simply and idly permit the experiment to go on. He came right into the middle of it, suffered the very worst of it, and is seeking every single moment to restore and reclaim as much of it as possible. That is very different from the indifferent God of Deism who simply watches atrocity from afar.
Artistic/Thought Value: A+
But I would be indulging in overkill if I said any more after having already said so much.
~What do you think keeps man from committing atrocities against his fellow man? Greed? Fear? Decency?
~How might this experiment have gone differently if it had been randomly selected people? Do you think we would all tend to behave like prisoners and guards if put in the right clothes/circumstances?
~Do you think that men are more prone to embrace roles like these than women would be? How might the presence of women have changed things in the experiment?
~If the experimenters are morally wicked men for conducting and permitting this experiment to go on, does that influence how you think about God’s morality?
~Why do the guards (at least some of them) use pornography? What is being said here?
~Is man naturally a predator or naturally something better than that? What does the Bible say about man’s original and current nature?
~Murder is either normal and natural or else highly abnormal and unnatural. Which is it?
~Every civilized person abhors violence, but this movie shows that there are some things worse than mere violence, such as humiliation. Why is humiliation so devastating to people? How does a sense of powerlessness destroy people who are normally capable? What solution to this problem does Christianity offer?
~What parallels would you draw between the payday offered in this experiment and the idea of earning heaven or rewards in heaven by being obedient to God?
~At what point in the movie do you think people involved would say the money simply wasn’t worth it? Are there any people for whom money really wasn’t the motivation anyhow? Especially consider Whitaker’s character.
~Is this movie anti-Christian, neutral, or pro-Christian? What do you think the intent of it was? If this movie is terribly pessimistic about human nature, does that make it a good precursor to evangelism? Why is disgust with humanity a necessary ingredient in embracing and comprehending the Gospel?
~Is God’s non-intervention evidence of His permission or endorsement of whatever we’re doing? Why do we tend sometimes to think as if it is?
~What makes Brody seem like a morally virtuous person? Is he really?
Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The end of the experiment. How is the white light of the doors opening symbolic? What happens immediately and what does it make you think of? Why is the contrast between what had been going on moments before and what happens next so poignant?
~The ending of the movie. How would you have ended the movie? What do you make of the news report that the experimenters have been arrested? Are you surprised that the movie permits Brody to reunite with his lady after having failed the big test? What parallels exist here with Christ and the Church, His Bride?
Overall Grade: A
An extremely disturbing movie with vast and fascinating social, moral, and religious implications.