Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (C.O.G.) takes us into the cramped space that Zimbardo created for his experiment, masterfully giving a claustrophobic portrayal to the audience. Capturing the tone of the experiment, Alvarez creates a haunting reimagining of what the "prisoners" went through after signing up. The film features performances by actors that I have barely seen on screen. All of the performances are crafted from the original experiment, giving the film a genuine cast. Billy Crudup (Watchmen, Almost Famous, Big Fish) plays the role of Dr. Zimbardo and capably puts himself in the shoes of a man whose experiment turns for the worse. A few other actors do a nice job in their respective roles are Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Suicide Squad) and Michael Angarano (Almost Famous). Miller shows us what was going on in with one of the prisoners, who felt mistreated and had a mental breakdown. On the other side of the picture, Angarano plays one of the guards who gets carried away with his role. In his role as Christopher Archer, Angarano terrifyingly takes control of the prison.
This is a film that leaves the audience pondering the outcomes of the experiment. The experiment shows us that people can become power-hungry if they are placed in specific roles. There are also implications of ingroups and outgroups, where people join up with others who are in similar situations as themselves. Some of the prisoners banded together to rebel against the guards, while some chose to follow along with what the guards made them do. The guards often ganged up on the prisoners, taking the experiment to the extreme via the use of physical brutality and mental harm. The film brings us visually into an experiment that is hard to imagine from simply reading the thesis. In writing, the reader can get an idea of the experiment, but we can only truly understand what was going on through visual interpretations.
The Bottom Line: The film gives the audience a fascinating peek into an experiment that had to be called off because of certain interactions among the guards and prisoners.
Image credit: By Zahra Borhan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49047896