Kudos to a Japanese friend who told me about a German movie she watched recently which unsettled her and made her want to go to Sanrioland to recuperate.
“Das Experiment” (2001) is a film based on the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment where 24 male participants were selected to play prisoners and guards for 2 weeks. The whole experiment was aborted in just 6 days after the guards who internalized their given role began to display sadistic tendencies and prison conditions fell into an appalling state. The prisoners were humiliated and there was even simulated sodomy (per wiki ).
Gott sei Danke, the film did not stay true to the actual events which happened in the Stanford experiment. Well, only the language (Deutsch instead of Yankee English), setting (some medical school in Germany), characters (family men, everyday middle-class folks instead of undergrads) and the simulated sodomy part (this was replaced by an attempted rape of the female research assistant by a guard). The rest is as realistic and faithful to the controversial experiment as it can get. Yes, right down to the nudity, fire extinguishers and batons.
After wasting 6 hours of my life hitting the forward button on Daybreakers (I love Ethan Hawke, not the film) and Ninja Assassin (nice buns, bad movie), “Das Experiment” is a refreshing change and offered a respite to my button-stabbing fingers.
This is a great film. It deserved more than just 13 wins at international film festivals and 15 nominations (IMBD).
Yes, ít’s not comfortable to watch and is definitely not the kinda movie you’d bring your date to nor is it for the faint-hearted.
No, there’s not alot of gore… nothing like the gallons of blood bags which are necessary in today’s crappy action movies (Bloody Ninja Assassin, give me 3 hours of my life back).
But… it left the security blanket of my mind in tatters and me completely unsettled.
“It’s only a game.”, says Tarek a.k.a. Prisoner #77 in the movie.
One might say “It’s only an artsy movie” like Schindler’s List or The Reader or Inglourious Basterds. However, no movie has made me squirm nor drove a clear message home like this one. The message “Das Experiment” is sending is that we are not immune to behaving in an unethical and even inhumane manner when the situation calls for it. That there is a dark, beastly side to the human condition in every single one of us. That there is no such thing as an identity to call your own. When the participants were given their roles as guards and prisoners, they went further than just role-play, they ‘became’ the roles they were assigned to.
The disturbing results of the actual Stanford Prison Experiment itself is enough to send chills down my spine.
These guards and prisoners are college undergraduates, the cream of the academic crop and healthy young men who were deemed psychologically stable before the experiment was conducted. In just the first day of the experiment, a riot broke out and the guards decided to attack the prisoners with fire extinguishers. What follows in the next 5 days before the experiment was terminated prematurely was incredibly disturbing (http://www.prisonexp.org/).
Feeling uncomfortable? You should because at least it shows that you are human.
Does that mean there’s no redemption for Man and everyone you see on the streets is a potential Adolf Hitler or Elizabeth Bathory?
Perhaps there is, and the answer (ad nauseam) is love and forgiveness.
I remember a good ol’ monk who made references to these psychological experiments.
The good thing that came out of these experiments is it clears away the fallacy that a person is either perfectly evil or perfectly good. ‘I am good, you are evil’ is bullshit. Nobody is perfect and being human is to be an in-betweener. Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian and an animal-lover. He cares for the things he loves like you and me. But history also marked him as a brutal murderer of millions of people. He invented the Holocaust.
Forgiving the vegetarian and animal-lover is easy but unfortunately, it all comes in a package whether one likes it or not. If one can recognise that we are capable of committing bad acts as well as good when put into the same situation, then it might be easier for one to forgive.
Now, where did I leave my yellow ribbon?