7.7/10
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The Experiment (2001)

Das Experiment (original title)
Trailer
1:41 | Trailer
For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The "prisoners" have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the "guards" are told to retain order without using physical violence.

Writers:

Mario Giordano (novel), Mario Giordano (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
14 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Moritz Bleibtreu ... Tarek Fahd Nr. 77
Christian Berkel ... Robert Steinhoff Nr. 38
Oliver Stokowski ... Günther Schütte Nr. 82
Wotan Wilke Möhring ... Joe Maier Nr. 69
Stephan Szasz Stephan Szasz ... Häftling Nr. 53
Polat Dal Polat Dal ... Häftling Nr. 40
Danny Richter ... Häftling Nr. 21
Ralf Müller Ralf Müller ... Häftling Nr. 15
Markus Rudolf Markus Rudolf ... Häftling Nr. 74
Peter Fieseler Peter Fieseler ... Häftling Nr. 11
Thorsten Dersch Thorsten Dersch ... Häftling Nr. 86 (as Thorsten J.H. Dersch)
Sven Grefer Sven Grefer ... Häftling Nr. 94
Justus von Dohnányi ... Berus (as Justus von Dohnànyi)
Nicki von Tempelhoff Nicki von Tempelhoff ... Kamps
Timo Dierkes Timo Dierkes ... Eckert
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Storyline

The movie is based on the infamous "Stanford Prison Experiment" conducted in 1971. A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab, complete with cells, bars and surveillance cameras. For two weeks 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The 'prisoners' are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the 'guards' are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit at any time, thereby forfeiting payment. In the beginning the mood between both groups is insecure and rather emphatic. But soon quarrels arise and the wardens employ ever more drastic sanctions to confirm their authority. Written by <armin@sfb288.math.tu-berlin.de>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Where is your limit? See more »

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing situations, language, sexuality and nudity | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Although no one died in the Stanford Prison Experiment on which the movie was based, the experiment was prematurely ended after six days out of a planned two weeks. The college students assigned (randomly) to be prisoners were "withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways" as a result of the degrading treatment they received. Quite a few scenes in the movie actually happened in the original experiment, including the early fire extinguisher scene and the prisoners being forced to clean the toilets by their bare hands. See more »

Goofs

On the film poster Tarek is wearing number 82, but in the film he is number 77. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Tarek Fahd, Häftling Nr. 77: [voiceover, reading newspaper ad] Test subjects wanted. Earn 4000 marks for a 14-day experiment in a simulated prison.
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Alternate Versions

The first cinema version had an insert in the beginning of the movie which stated "This is based on the Stanford Prison Experiment". Since Prof. Philip Zimbardo wasn't asked by the filmmakers - and the movie doesn't really show the true experiment, but an exaggeration, the insert was changed to say "This movie is based on the novel Black Box" See more »

Connections

Remade as The Experiment (2010) See more »

Soundtracks

Be Bop A Lula
Tex Davis / Gene Vincent
(C) by Hill & Range Songs, Inc. / Lowery Music Co.
Mit freundlicher Genehmigung der
Musikverlag Intersong GmbH
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User Reviews

Interesting, involving and exciting – made more interesting with revelations involving the US troops in Iraqi prisons
23 August 2004 | by bob the mooSee all my reviews

Taxi driver and freelance journalist Tarek Fahd spots an advert in a newspaper for volunteers to take part in a psychological experiment over two weeks. He arrives along with a group of others, to be divided up into prisoners and guards before being placed into a simulated prison and provided with rules, Tarek being prisoner number 77. Initially everyone is enjoying themselves but soon the guards tire of the prisoners taking the p*ss and decide it is time to clamp down on their behaviour. As they realize that they have no limit on their powers, the actions of the guards become increasingly brutal and uncaring.

Based on the infamous experiments carried out at Stanford in the 1970's, this film had it all going for it in terms of being an effective thriller while also looking at the ways that human nature will gravitate towards the cruel once they are placed in positions of power. I decided to watch this film because it seemed interesting on this basis but also very topical considering the behaviour of the US soldiers in the Iraq prisons – mostly poor 'white trash' types who were corrupted when they suddenly found themselves in a position they had never been in before – control. Like them, the characters here gradually get more extreme – just like they did in the real experiment as well. With this topicality it is no surprise that I was easily taken in by the film and was never really bored by it. Being a thriller in its own right, the film has to settle into the eventual action conclusion but even this works pretty well and doesn't detract from what has gone before in terms of interest.

This is not to say it is perfect, because it could have been much better than it was. The constant cutting to Tarek's girlfriend now and in flashback only took away from the film and she could have still played her part at the end with much less time during the main body of the film. Also it became a little too far-fetched for the sake of drama – a recent television drama in the UK did it differently by actually recreating the same experiment as opposed to this film which needed to go harder and faster in order to reach the eventual running and fighting stage! But it still works and, to be honest, it is well worth seeking out for the 'human nature' aspect alone – it had a special resonance in Germany but it is hard not to be put in a thoughtful mood given recent events in Iraqi military prisons.

The cast are roundly good and all slip one way or the other in a convincing manner. Beibtreu is good once he gets past the stage where he is making trouble for the sake of it – this is necessary to speed the descent into cruelty but it was laid on a bit thick at the start. After this his performance is much more evenly balanced and he is a good lead. I struggled to pick up the names of all the others because they were mostly unknown to me but the head guard was very good while the rest of the cast did more than just deliver their pigeon-holed characters, where really they could have been nothing more than 'prisoner who goes crazy', 'timid guard', 'angry guard', 'silent prisoner' etc – they weren't, they were all pretty real people.

Overall this is not the best thing to come to if you are after a sort of documentary drama about the original experiment but it is still a very good film. It is exciting and dramatic while still having a bit of a brain on it – an asset made more interesting by what we have seen in Iraq over the past few months with guards becoming even worse than those we see in this film! Not a perfect film but a well made one that is interesting, involving and exciting and one that is well worth looking up.


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Details

Country:

Germany

Language:

German | English

Release Date:

8 March 2001 (Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

The Experiment See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$19,857, 22 September 2002

Gross USA:

$144,634

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$13,782,896
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (DVD) | (cut) | (uncut)

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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