We’ve all heard about the Milgram experiments in psychology, right? The infamous experiments that tested human obedience to authority and astonished the world with its results. Peter Sarsgaard portrays Stanley Milgram, the social psychologist that conducted these experiments (and which bear his name). Experimenter focuses on the ethical questions of his work, but highlights Milgram’s lasting impact on the world.
The film takes some weird turns due to interesting directorial choices. Most scenes were filmed on actual sets while a handful of others were filmed with a photo backdrop, which may take the audience out of the film. There are also a couples of scenes where an elephant appears behind Milgram as he speaks to the audience. During one of these monologues, Milgram makes reference to George Orwell, the pen name of a famous British writer. Orwell’s relevance to the film, and the relevance of the elephant, is likely a reference to his short essay Shooting an Elephant. The essay centers around a English speaking police officer that is called upon to shoot a rampant elephant in Burma. This speaks to the nature of human obedience under certain conditions.
As mentioned, Milgram constantly breaks the fourth wall by conversing with the audience during the course of the film. His speeches provide insight into the mindset of this psychologist, while also giving the audience pertinent background information about Milgram. With that being said, Experimenter is largely driven by dialogue. Perhaps some of the more interesting moments occur in the experiment room, where participants are asked to administer shocks to another person. The controversy of the experiments are mildly captured throughout the film, but I was largely unimpressed by the direction of the film.
In the end, I’m glad that I caught this film on iTunes, rather than paying the ticket price at a local theater. Experimenter doesn’t entertain, but may cause you to think about the results of the experiments. What would you do in that situation?