The Stanford Prison Experiment, which premiered this week at Sundance to mostly positive reviews, is not always an easy film to watch.
Much of the action takes place in barren 6-foot-wide hallway. The characters–seemingly normal and well-adjusted Stanford students recruited to participate in a landmark 1971 study about the psychology of imprisonment–take their role-playing as prisoner and guard to extremes, turning power-hungry, violent and occasionally sadistic. The “grown-ups,” led by researcher Philip Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup), watch a live feed of the action from a nearby office and fail to stop the abuse–fueled by their own power trips and unchecked ambition.
None of the men or boys come off looking very good in the film, though director Kyle Patrick Alvarez does a masterful job humanizing them. And it’s impossible to watch without wondering how you’d react if parachuted into Zimbardo’s simulated prison. Would you stand…
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