Actors: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: MPI Home Video
DVD Release Date: November 17, 2015
Run Time: 122 minutes
The Stanford Prison Experiment is consistently compelling, a fascinating telling of true events grounded by believable performances and a relentlessly tense tone. The entire experience of watching the film was riveting, despite a disappointing lack of commentary on the events. We are drawn in by the realism of Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s direction and the dedicated performances from the solid ensemble cast, but the screenplay adapted by Tim Talbott from Dr. Phillip Zimbardo’s book fails to contextualize the events. When the experiment from the film’s title was completed, it was followed by endless interviews and studies to understand the events; the audience of The Stanford Prison Experiment is merely given a few minutes to investigate these ideas as the credits roll.
In 1971 Dr. Philip Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup) of
led a team of researchers in a psychological study of the behavioral effects of
the prison system. With students volunteering to participate as either guards
or prisoners, the study discovered the startling effects of captivity on the
prisoners, as well as the influence of power in hands of the mock prison
guards. Within one day rules of the study were being broke, and an experiment which
was meant to last two weeks was shut down after merely six days. Despite
thinking they knew what the effects of the study would be, Zimbardo and his
team were shocked to see how quickly the situation devolved into chaos. Stanford University
This is the third time that Dr. Zimbardo’s crucial study has been adapted into film form, though previously it was merely a starting off point for screenwriters to utilize creative license. The difference between this film and the German adaptation (as well as the American remake of that German interpretation), is the faithfulness to accuracy. The location, time period, and details are kept as close to actual events as possible, even utilizing the real Dr. Zimbardo as an advisor for the production. This realism does not detract from the impact of the situation, even if the treatment of the prisoners is psychologically destructive rather than physical. Though the natural cinematic evolution would be to allow this tension to boil over with acts of violence, The Stanford Prison Experiment remains stronger by refraining from that kind of unnecessary spectacle. The emotional turmoil of the situation must instead rely upon the strength of the film’s cast.
There are so many fantastic actors within this cast of characters that it almost becomes a fault of the film. Because Dr. Zimbardo is not portrayed to be at all sympathetic for much of the film and the students enacting the guards in the experiment are mostly corrupted by the power entrusted to them, this leaves only the victimized faux prisoners for audiences to sympathize with. This may have worked better if there had been only one relatable prisoner as the central protagonist, but instead we are given a handful of personalities and reactions. Despite the excellence of each performance and however accurate this may be to the true events the narrative is based on, the result is somewhat scattered and uneven. The reality is, just because something is fascinating as a true story doesn’t mean its narrative will work as a film.
The DVD release for The Stanford Prison Experiment includes a director’s commentary track, as well as two featurettes about the film and the real-life study it is based on. A trailer is also included.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 5/10