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January 26, 2007

You'll never trust psychologists again…

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Das Experiment
4 out of 5 stars

Das Experiment

I watched this intense film last night after my own gruelling experience at the local (although 40 minute walk away) gym and I have to admit I felt sceptical that I would enjoy a rather sombre, subtitled film given the attention it would require to be rewarding.  I am happy to say that I was proved entirely wrong and, although I think "enjoy" is perhaps inappropriate to describe the quite uncomfortable viewing experience that Das Experiment provides, I thought it was very good.

Based on a controversial psychological experiment conducted in America investigating the effects of captivity, authority and peer pressure on a group of test subjects divided into prisoners and prison guards, Das Experiment narrates the not-so-gradual decline into humiliation, abuse, torture and eventually murder, despite the instruction not to usee violence in support of the guards' authority, in a German version of the story.  Although the real life experiment was aborted before such a tragedy could occur, Oliver Hirschbiegel's film convincingly escalates events to provide the story with a clearer narrative trajectory, culminating in an extremely dramatic and quite frightening climax, when even the psychologists in charge, Dr Grimm (one of several slightly cheesy touches in the film) and Professor Thon, cannot keep events under any kind of control and themselves become victims of the guards' sadistic authority.

Aside from Dr Grimm's rather clumsy name, the awkward and contrived love interest of the most rebellious prisoner, undercover reporter Tarek, is the film's only real weakness but this can be forgiven in the context of such a thrilling, though very chilling, movie that asks deep questions about the frailty and darkness of the human psyche. 

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