Irish Film Institute -Experiment, The

Experiment, The

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

This extremely powerful German thriller is based on a novel (The Black Box by Mario Giordano) that was obviously inspired by the famous ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ of 1971, when research psychologists from Stanford University simulated prison conditions to discover ‘what happens when you put good people in an evil place.’ At the time, the good doctors were surprised at the way in which the guinea-pig students took to their assigned roles as prisoners and guards. Indeed, such was the abuse meted out by the students playing the guards that the experiment had to be halted prematurely.Although Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film taps into the current craze for reality TV shows, it is mounted as a straight drama rather than an outrageous genre piece like Battle Royale. It begins in a light comic vein as Cologne taxi driver Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu of Run Lola Run fame) signs up for a two-week psychological experiment. A former journalist, Tarek persuades his old boss to let him go undercover, and he’s fitted with a mini-camcorder in his glasses to record events. As the experiment begins, Tarek deliberately pushes the envelope by humiliating the guards. Gradually, the line between reality and playacting begins to blur. In the end, the guards not only torture the prisoners but also take over control from the scientists.
Former TV director Hirschbiegel winds up the tension by employing a brutally direct camera style and harsh lighting. He make excellent use of Tarek’s camera to simulate the directness of TV reportage, and the whole film has a kinetic charge that carries all before it.
Germany, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 120 mins.

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