For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The "prisoners" have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the "guards" are told to retain order without using physical violence.
The movie is based on the infamous "Stanford Prison Experiment" conducted in 1971. A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab, complete with cells, bars and surveillance cameras. For two weeks 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The 'prisoners' are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the 'guards' are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit at any time, thereby forfeiting payment. In the beginning the mood between both groups is insecure and rather emphatic. But soon quarrels arise and the wardens employ ever more drastic sanctions to confirm their authority. Written by
Based on a real psychological experiment at Stanford University in 1971, using a group of male students, the mood of this film captures the sense of disorientation and loss of reality that was experienced by the original volunteers. Acts of humiliation present a violent and effective method for stripping individuality and asserting power over prisoners. The psychological transformations into masochistic and submissive roles are fascinating when you consider that that the only real distinguishable difference between the characters, is that by a random selection process, some are labeled 'wardens' and others are labeled 'prisoners'. The levels of violence, brutality and humiliation in the film seem extreme but in the original experiment, humiliation tactics were also extreme prisoners were also made to wear chains round their ankles and stockings on their heads at all times! The film's conclusion is carefully constructed and appears to bear an implicit reference to the real prison riot of San Quentin (which occurred the day after the Stanford experiment was prematurely halted), in which guards and informant prisoners were tortured and murdered during the prisoners' escape attempt. This film is a sensitive study into power relationships within an altered reality and is masterfully crafted to build tension and invite the viewer to question the character's morality and ethical codes. Far more relevant and interesting than the bland reality TV shows we are plagued by these days highly recommended!
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