Here’s a vivid but crushingly literal dramatisation of an event that appears as a case study in every psychology textbook published in the past 40 years. In the late summer of 1971, US academic Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) designed an experiment in which 24 male students simulated a prison environment for two weeks. The subjects were randomly assigned one of two roles: prisoner or guard. Barely 24 hours passed before violence erupted and the project was cut short after just six days.
Adapted from a book Zimbardo wrote in 2007, ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ unfolds with all the drama and insight of a Wikipedia page. Despite assembling a top-tier cast of buzzy young talent (including Ezra Miller and Tye Sheridan), the film can’t overcome the feeling that its actors have less conviction in their parts than Zimbardo’s original subjects did. It’s hard to shake the thought that a documentary about the making of this movie would have been a more insightful way of re-examining Zimbardo’s work, particularly as front-page atrocities like Abu Ghraib continue to affirm his findings.