Das Experiment - Germany 2001 - A Review

Language -German
Genre - Thriller, Drama,
Release -2001

Das Experiment - Poster
Released in 2001, Das Experiment could have very well been the concept of a reality show. 20 volunteers are selected for a group-behavior oriented psychology experiment where they are divided into 2 groups, 8 guards and 12 prisoners in a mock jail, and are to role-play their parts under clear guidelines or rules, for 14 days. Their reward - 4000 Deutschmarks. A good enough sum to attract volunteers from all walks of life. 

Based on Mario Giordano's novel Black Box and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the movie borrows it's thematic elements from a real-life controversial social experiment known as the Stanford Prison experiment. Carried out in 1971 and funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the goal of the social experiment was to study the psychological effects of becoming either a prison-guard or an inmate in an effort to better understand abusive prison situations. The experiment was terminated in 6 days as things started to go out of control. The movie has also inspired a Adrien Brody starring straight-to-video American remake in 2010. I often wonder why Hollywood goes about messing up good original content with their awful remakes. It probably has to do something with exceptions like the Oscar winning 'The Departed', remake of the Hong-Kong masterpiece 'Infernal Affairs'. The Experiment (2010), sadly, belongs with the majority.

Moritz Bleibtreu as Tarek
Das Experiment stars the popular German actor Moritz Bleibtreu as a taxi driver, Tarek Fahd, who decides to enroll in the experiment as an undercover journalist (his profession before he got bored and decided to become a taxi driver). There are a varied mix of characters, a lactose-intolerant submissive kiosk owner without any friends, an Elvis Presley impersonator, a calm and composed undercover military Major, a quiet sadist role-playing a guard whose motto is simple - "Humiliation is the only way we can solve these troubles.".  One would generally expect them to get along well in company, survive the 14 days, and take the 4000 Deutschmarks home. But only if human nature was that simple. As a prisoner, you either submit or you rebel and as a guard, you would bend the rules just to make the prisoners obey. These role-plays do not alter personality, but simply accentuates certain traits that starts to define the individual behavior. Well, that's my psychology analysis 101 on the movie.

Out of Control
Though the critics of the movie might consider the characters' quick descent into chaos and violence as forced, the real-life Stanford experiment would lead credence to such behavior (in case you want to know more; www.prisonexp.org). Oliver Hirschbiegel has got a good set of actors to work with. Moritz as Tarek, the rebel leader of the prisoners and Christian Berkel as the methodical Major impress with their efforts. There's also a romantic sidetrack in the movie between Tarek and Dora (played by the beautiful Maren Eggert) that might seem out of place to some, but for me, it added an interesting new dimension in the plot.

Though not path-breaking or ground-breaking cinema by any means, Das Experiment is still a very compelling watch that is slick in it's execution and is full of vitality, and presents a very fresh and interesting new perspective on the interplay between rules, duty, desire, anger, fear and seduction of power.