Sometimes there are just great movies which you can’t do justice. Others there are terrible movies that don’t even deserve your time for a review. Sometimes, it’s somewhere in the middle. A pretty good idea, strong cast, you are fully focused and enjoying the moment, only to realize midway the execution is terrible, and the story leaves disappointed and angry at ruining such an opportunity.
Last week I got the chance to watch The Experiment. The story itself was unconventional and one that really got me interested. 26 volunteers enroll into an experiment where they play the roles of either a guard or a prisoner for two weeks for the purpose of a psychological study of human behavior under extreme circumstances. The promise is that each volunteer, shall the experiment conclude successfully, will get paid $14,000. There are certain rules for the study that must be met. Guards must keep order, prisoners must not touch guards, and the experiment will stop immediately in the case of violence. Civil rights are not maintained however during the experiment. The protagonist is a favorite actor of mine, Adrien Brody, playing the role of Travis the idealistic who ends up being one of the prisoners in the experiment.
Now with that plot, the movie had my full attention. The execution however went astray in the middle of the road. As it was obvious from the candidate screening, volunteers came from different beliefs and ideologies. However most of them had one thing in common. They all wanted the huge paycheck. At the beginning, guards and prisoners were all compassionate and friendly overall, until one prisoner mistakenly throws a basket ball into the face of a guard, who starts bleeding from the nose. Acknowledging the mistake, the guard didn’t take strong action against him. Later however, another guard starts explaining how they must show their control over prisoners, or else they could risk failing the experiment, and losing all the money. And so they start harassing him, and then gradually his inmates, getting more violent and extreme one step at a time. Prisoners started protesting when they were served what seemed to be like dog shit. Disobeying the rule of all dishes must be eaten in full. Up till that point, I could say it was alright.
After that however, the guards and prisoners start to clash head straight, and one protesting prisoner is first shaved, next day tied to a chair, kicked down, and then gets peed on by a group of guards. Kicking him off the chair did not trigger the violence penalty. Seems the Doctor went lean in the experiment. The prisoner goes back to his cell, smelling of urine, broken. His begs to save his inmate who needs his insulin injection is met with absolute refusal. After he convinces one guard to smuggle the injection, he’s busted, and his face gets pushed down the toilet several times.
Now assuming the moral of the experiment is to see how long will people tolerate injustice, which is the violence in this case which gets ignored by the Doctors conducting the experiment, who would agree to get jailed, peed on, and have his head shoved down the toilet, just so that he, and his offender each walk away with $14,000? And I’m not spoken about a homeless, but rather an idealistic guy. Why did he have to tolerate that long until he erupted? The script got even more ridiculous as sick guy who needed the injection eventually got stabbed, died, and the experiment still kept going! Not until all prisoners were armed, and went fist to fist with the guards, started beating them to death did the alarm ring, signaling the termination of the experiment. And upon hearing the alarm, they all stop. Even Travis, who was beating the guard who killed his friend in vengeance, decided that’s enough and let him live. They all kept waiting outside for the bus to take them back home, only to be seen later in an interview saying they will sue the doctor who conducted the experiment.
Didn’t it occur to the doctor sooner than that he will get sued? Guy getting peed on, have his head down the filthy toilet, and then another stabbed to death. All that didn’t make him reconsider? I mean that’s US, where you can get sued for serving a cup of hot coffee. I felt really sad that such a strong and unique story got messed up so badly towards the end. This could’ve been very huge otherwise.