Thanks to the Jewish Film Festival we had the chance to see ‘Experimenter’ before the start of the festival. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
‘Experimenter’ tells the story of infamous psychologist Stanley Milgram and his groundbreaking obedience experiment in 1961. Milgram, a scientist of Jewish descent, was puzzled by how many of the horrors committed by the Germans during World War II were executed by seemingly normal people who later tried to explain their crimes against humanity with the argument that they just did what they were told. Milgram wanted to test if regular Americans were also capable of hurting innocent people just because they were told to. Although he hoped and expected that Americans would never be able to commit the terrible things the Germans did, the outcome of his experiment was the exact opposite: regular people had no problem with hurting others as long as they were told by a person with authority.
Milgram got criticized by fellow scientists for the ethically doubtful ways in which he conducted his research. But the scale on which Milgram was condemned was a clear case of people shooting the messenger: American media dismissed Milgram because they were not willing to accept his pessimistic discoveries about the human condition. Although his research is still considered groundbreaking to this very day, Milgram faded into oblivion and died a miserable man at a relatively young age.
While the subject of Milgram’s experiment provides plenty of potential for a captivating movie, director Michael Almereyda has delivered a rather underwhelming film that feels more like a theatre play. There are plenty of green screen backgrounds that look deliberately fake, and the viewer can only guess what the point is of this artistic choice. Luckily Peter Sarsgaard delivers an engaging performance that makes you feel empathy for Milgram’s misunderstood scientific genius, regardless of how unethical his methods may have been. We also get to see Milgram’s human side as the film focuses on his marriage to his wife Sasha (Winona Ryder). Although ‘Experimenter’ could have been and should have been a much more interesting movie, it is still worth watching because of its urgent subject matter. And course the film is a must-see for all psychology students as it tackles an experiment that to this day is considered one of the most important researches in their field.
This year’s Jewish Film Festival takes place from October 28th to November 18th in Sydney, and from November 4th to November 29th in Melbourne. There are also limited screenings in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. Check http://www.jiff.com.au/ for full listings.