The Stanford Prison Experiment: Film Review

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Now I am a psychology nerd, I did it at A-level and it was absolutely fascinating, so obviously I was going to check out the latest film reenactment of the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo. I know this case well, it is one of the most memorable studies (besides Milgram), so I was keen to see it onscreen after a disappointing recreation with Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker in 2010’s The Experiment.

The film stars Billy Crudup as Zimbardo and plenty of up-and-coming young actors including Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Thomas Mann and Johnny Simmons, to name a few. They applied to take part in a paid experiment during the summer holidays at Stanford University, a part of which has been transformed into a makeshift prison. They are divided into prisoners and guards and their behaviour is observed. The two-week experiment was famously cut short after six days after the guards become abusive.

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The 2010 movie definitely just used the study as a jumping off point for something way more cinematic and crazy, whereas this one is very realistic as it is based on Zimbardo’s own book, The Lucifer Effect. This means it is pretty slow-moving and not as dramatic as you had expected. While it is bad morally and ethically in terms of the experiment and some parts are hard to watch, but you were braced for worse. So what comes to pass didn’t seem as bad as what you were waiting for.

The acting was really good though – especially Miller and Angarano as the stand out prisoner and guard respectively. It was absolutely fascinating and felt truthful, but it was a bit too long and the ending was slightly disappointing because you were expecting the behaviour to get progressively worse and build to a climax, but I found the first few days harder to watch than the last. Still worth a watch for anyone unaware of the experiment. It’s crazy but true!

In cinemas now 

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