A German movie that investigates the origins of Nazi behaviour cannot fail to be of interest. The problem with The Experiment is that it feels like a set up. You have to wait until three quarters of the way through before being surprised, or even shocked.

A group of men answer an ad for a 14 day prison simulation test. Most of them are in it for the money. The white-coated scientists appear serious and warn them of possible "extreme situations", 24 hour surveillance and no privacy: "You waive your civil rights." They are given every opportunity to back out during the assessment period. None do. It's still a bit of a joke.

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Once they are sorted into guards and prisoners, the atmosphere changes. The rules state categorically "No Violence". As a result, the prisoners take the piss.

The chief scientist (Philipp Hochmair) tells the uniformed controllers, "You don't plays guards. You ARE guards." In other words, it's not a game anymore.

The film follows Tarek (Moritz Bleibtreu), a cab driver and chief trouble-maker amongst the prisoners, and Berus (Justus Von Dohnanyi), who assumes leadership of the guards. The slow, inevitable breakdown of law and order accompanies the unreality of a controlled situation, as personal values shatter under pressure. When the prisoners realise that the stop button has been disconnected, the experiment becomes a matter of life and death.

Rather than stay with the men, the scriptwriters invent Dora (Maren Eggert), who is completely unbelievable. The evening before Tarek signs up as a human guinea pig, her car crashes into his taxi and they end up in bed together. While "inside", he has slow motion flashbacks of their night together and, later, she involves herself in the living drama.

The film is faithful to the philosophy of how absolute power corrupts. The performances hold nothing back. Fear is raw.

Pity about the girl.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2006
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Based on a true experiment where volunteers act out the roles of guards and prisoners with disturbing results. Out to own as part of the European Mavericks Heart Of Darkness box set.
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Read more Das Experiment reviews:

Martin Fitzgerald ****
Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Writer: Mario Giordano, Christoph Darnstadt, Don Bohlinger, based on the novel Black Box by Mario Gieodano

Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Justus von Dohnanyi, Friedrich Wildfever, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski, Andrea Sawatzki, Nicki von Tempelhoff, Timo Dierkes

Year: 2001

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany


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