E for (The) Experiment

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Will we look up in respect at an army march-past in sweat pants? Or will we even want to look up in reverence at nuns and priests who are very liberal? Does our perspective change when we look at the fire fighter without the uniform on?

The Experiment, (Das Experiment) is not a movie that will bedazzle any of you by its sheer technical brilliance but it will surely overwhelm you with the dark realms of human psyche that it explores. There are two aspects that the story highlights, first the inner self that takes over in  dire circumstances and second, how uniform changes our attitude.

The movie is based on the novel The Black Box that was inspired by the well-known ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’. It was an experiment in role playing and one of the scientists penned on its website “Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.”

I am sure you get the plot of the movie by the quote above. The Experiment is directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and has Moritz Bleibtreu as Tarek Fahd, one of the inmates and Justus Von Dohnanyi as Berus, one of the guards.

A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab and for two weeks 20 participants were hired to play prisoners and guards. Amongst the 20 there were 12 prisoners and 8 guards. The prisoners had to give up their rights and the guards were not supposed to use any violence against the prisoners. At the onset it’s a friendly game for which each would get 4,000 Marks (1700 USD) but soon the prisoners under the leadership of Tarek begin to defy the authority of the guards. Though the guards are role – playing and have donned fake uniforms, they feel their ego and power are at stake. Soon Berus, the guard who was laughed at for body odour, takes charge when he suggests that he had read somewhere that humiliation is the best way to subjugate and secure obedience. The prisoners are stripped naked and are pissed on, which rattles all of them. When Berus’s tactics become successful he becomes the unsaid leader of the guards yielding a lot of power.

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As is expected the guards become overtly sadistic towards the prisoners and the prisoners try to defy the guards at every instance and in a final showdown, two get killed, three of the participants are severely injured and the lead scientist behind the experiment along with Berus are booked for multiple homicides and unethical experiment.

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It is often said if your want to find out what someone thinks of himself or herself, examine the uniform well. Behavior, most often than not, is in sync with what we wear or the uniform we have on us. Two weeks is not too long a time and the 20 participants could have played their part and earned their money and gone home happy but they could not harness the the darkness we harbor inside us when provoked.

To answer the questions asked above,no matter what the circumstances, uniforms do yield a kind of aura of dynamism and vigour, fright and domination. We will never know how our own attitudes will change donning a uniform. We talk of millions of war crimes and look down upon the perpetrators in horror but are we sure we wouldn’t be one of them doing the same atrocious deeds had we be wearing those very same uniforms?

I leave you with the trailer of the film

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8 thoughts on “E for (The) Experiment

  1. As a German, I know about the movie and the many reactions it has spurned. You’ve summed it up perfectly, good job. I’ve never watched it, I have to admit. Just reading about it freaks me out because it tells a lot about how humans tick.

  2. Great review Ahana! Your post has made me put this one, on my must watch list!
    And what you have said is so true about uniforms, and humans never fail to exploit make believe authority and power.

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