Our film club plans to diversify our movie taste and at one time we had a concept about German films. It was “Das Experiment” (The Experiment in English). The movie is about a simulation program conducted by psychology scientists to witness the effect of socialization in a total institution, which in this case a prison. Enticed by the hefty money offered, many young men volunteer in the program. Randomly, some are assigned as guards and others as prisoners. As the film progresses, one thing comes in my mind, my sociology class. We have discussed this experiment alongside with the Hawthorne Effect on Sociological Investigation.
“Das Experiment”, as it turned out, is based on a novel called “Blackbox” by Mario Giordano , and the novel in return is based on Philip Zimbardo’s study “Stanford County Prison”. The study was to test the hypothesis if the prison itself is the cause of the violence. Before the actual experiment of course, the participants were closely examined if they were physically and psychologically fit to enter the program. The real study and the film were alike, they both ended bloody.
As the experiment starts, the guards are reluctant to command their counter part. The prisoners refuse to accept orders and mocks the guards and also reasons that “this is just a game, we’ll get our money soon”. Peer pressure, however, settles on the guards as they are humiliated in their roles. Tarek is among the rebellious and besides they were supposed to be rebellious since the money they will received depends on their performance. Berus, the most offended guard, begins to impose violence and the prisoners, especially Tarek, suffers a series of abuse like being stripped naked and urinated.
Before the experiment, Tarek is a taxi driver and one night he almost gets to an accident with a reckless driver, Dora, who just lost his father and is currently oblivious in her life. Tarek understands and gives Dora shelter for the night. This event is the only thing that keeps Tarek going, which is characterized in the film as a flashbacks of several erotic scenes.
The research ethics of securing “the safety of the subjects” is failed miserably when the Dr. Klauss Thon persists on the experiment despite the obvious danger and when he disregards the request of a prisoner to quit. The guards, in turn, thinks they are doing good and continues to portray tyranny.
Once again, I am defeated by my biases that German films are crap like the way I treated Bollywood and Korean cinemas. Oliver Hirschbiegel, together with the creative screenwriters, delivers a dramatic and poignant film that will surely touch the hearts of the viewers. A must watch.
PS: At least now, you can recommend to your teacher something educational.