Experimenter is based on the true story of famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1961 conducted a series of radical behavior experiments that tested ordinary humans' willingness to obey by using electric shock. We follow Milgram, from meeting his wife Sasha through his controversial experiments that sparked public outcry. Written by
For some reason I expected more of a documentary, so this docudrama nearly had me out the door, but the authoritative man in the grey lab coat persuaded me to stay.
It clearly, and to my understanding, accurately, lays out the format of the notorious Milgram Experiment, which is necessary for all that follows; the public and academic backlash, our involvement as we question whether we would behave like Milgram's subjects, and his own soul-searching. To be sure, he comes across as quite cold-hearted, and more self-doubt would have made a more interesting story. Instead, all of the doubt is carried by his colleagues and Wynona Ryder as his patient wife.
The original experiment is well-enough represented that the re-creation of a TV series about it (with Kellan Lutz as a young William Shatner playing the Milgram character) has some amusingly obvious elements of parody, and hence self-parody of this film.
The film has some unsettling features over and above the experiments themselves - scenes carried out in colour in front of poorly placed monochrome back-projections, and an elephant, yes, a real, if slightly out of focus elephant behind Peter Sarsgaard as he talks to the camera walking towards us along a university corridor. Why? If it's The Elephant In The Room, what are we not seeing?
As Milgram points out, he and his experiment are treated with opprobrium, but the results are accepted, and serve their purpose. While the Holocaust is repeatedly invoked (including footage of the Eichmann trial), and Milgram twice mentions that his name is Hebrew for pomegranate (in fact it's not but milgrom is the Yiddish), an obvious ethical parallel is not mentioned: the Nazi experiments of killing prisoners with X-rays, which are still shown (usually on an opt-in basis) to medical students.
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