Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Das Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment is quite famous in the annals of psychology, in spite of being fairly poorly run and executed. Making one group prisoners and the others guards, it all quickly got out of hand, with rampant mistreatment of prisoners by the guards ensuing. It was inept, poorly handled, and unethical. So, imagine if it got even worse! That's the motive behind Das Experiment, a German film inspired by the events.

Here, we have taxi driver and sometimes journalist Tarek (Mauritz Bleibtreu) as one of the prisoners, attempting to get things completely out of hand in order to get a better story. He gains the attention of guard Berus (Justus von Dohnanyi), who is in the process of going quite literally mad with power. Their antagonism is one of the drivers of the story, though eventually Berus just goes completely nuts, kills a guy, kidnaps most of the scientists, and gets all the guards to go along with him because they think this is all part of the experiment. It gets out of hand.

Also, Maren Eggert is Dora, she wanders around in her underwear. Her characters has no purpose whatsoever.

For the most part, the movie is a pretty interesting tale of psychological warfare. The Berus/Tarek conflict is a strong base for the film to build on, contrasting Berus' pathological need for control nicely with Tarek's need to get a good story. It's an interesting attempt to get to the psychological implications of the experiment, and by telling the story through the perspective of someone trying to ratchet up the intensity, it has a compelling anti-hero at its core.

In the need to keep continually raising the stakes, it also wanders in the river of implausibility. It's not so much implausible because of the treatment prisoners receive, nor is it implausible that some guards would develop sadistic tendencies. No, what's implausible is that the guards would turn on the bosses themselves. See, in the experiment, the people in charge of payment are the scientists. Locking up the scientists and assaulting them? Not going to happen, for the same reason the wardens at real prisons aren't locked up and assaulted: If you do that you're going to get fired and go home without pay.

The last act is meant to ratchet up the tension, but it just becomes completely unbelievable. Is it seriously going to get to the point where the guards even turn on the scientists in charge? Even if the lead guard is in it to beat guys up and overcompensate for smelling bad, the others will remember that he's not the boss, the scientists are, and beating up the scientists is a bad idea.

Also, real prison guards tend to not kill the prisoners. That's a pretty basic part of prison guarding, don't kill anyone.

It's not like the ineptitude of the inspiration needs to be enhanced anyway, and it could become just as compelling a film even without the outlandish last act. The need to ratchet up the tension does not serve the story, because it is unnecessary. Why do we need more than the regular batch of inhumanity? It's good enough to make the real story compelling, and at least it doesn't tread deeply into the realm of implausibility.

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