Experimenter is based on the true story of famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1961 conducted a series of radical behavior experiments that tested ordinary humans' willingness to obey by using electric shock. We follow Milgram, from meeting his wife Sasha through his controversial experiments that sparked public outcry.Written by
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Sometimes utterly fascinating, sometimes completely boring
Michael Almereyda's Experimenter isn't what you would think it is. It is a documentary disguised as a movie that examines and experiments on the viewer through abstract story telling, bizarre imagery and personal quandaries. The film aims to tell us a very interesting story, but Experimenter always feels the need to remind us that we aren't as smart as the intellectuals showcased, making the audience feel considerably distanced.
To start, the acting is pretty excellent overall. While I was never familiar with Stanley Milgram before, Peter Sarsgaard gave an incredibly intriguing performance as the sly social psychologist. He brought a surprising amount of depth to a character who would seemingly appear shallow. Winona Ryder also gave an excellent performance as Milgram's spouse. Her character serves as the audience's character as she is mostly unfamiliar with Milgram's work. She helps to reveal layers of humanity and emotion that we never expected from the icy and straight- faced Milgram. Even the sub-characters with minimal screen-time put in a great effort. Their small movements and facial expressions during the film's first experiment sequences are incredibly realistic and make these scenes totally engrossing.
All the experiments shown and explained throughout the film are easily the film's best moments. These experiments and social predicaments are absolutely fascinating. They act as a vessel in which we can view raw human emotions and nature in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. Sadly, the film insists on making us feel like we are the ones being experimented on, which puts a considerable distance between the film and audience.
Experimenter is a film about intellectuals and their need to put themselves above the public. The story shared with us is explained through abstract storytelling and some strange imagery, and many times throughout I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being pandered to. Experimenter becomes quite pretentious when it decides to abandon it's regular path of narrative and adopt a quirky and abstract style of storytelling. It isn't always like this though, but it does become quite obvious when the film thinks that it is so much smarter than it's audience.
Experimenter manages to be entertaining most of the time, despite it's complicated and deep social psychology. But when Experimenter is bad, it's really bad. There are some stretches within the film that are completely dull and boring. These stretches are somewhat infrequent, but the entire film does take a hit when a narrative slump this massive shows up. Luckily, these parts aren't quite long enough to completely ruin the film, but they still are quite noticeable and unpleasant.
The excellent acting and fascinating social experiments are more than enough to say that this film is enjoyable, but Experimenter doesn't bode too well when it so obviously sees the audience as below it.
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