“The Experimenter”: A playful look at obedience and authority


For those of us who had to endure an introductory level psychology or sociology course, we all know about the unethical practices of research studies. The Tuskegee syphilis study, the Stanford prison experiment and the Milgram experiment are all examples of experiments that disregarded the participants’ well-being, all for the sake of “science.” The new film, Experimenter (2015), explores the obedience to authority shock experiment conducted by Milgram in the 1960s.

Director Michael Almereyda, stated that he had never heard about the Milgram experiments until his girlfriend began studying him in one of her classes. Duuuuuuude, even if you never took an intro social science class, you should know about Milgram’s shock experiment. The study’s results and the way it affected the participants is one of the many reasons we now have research ethics boards. For that alone, I am giving Almereyda some side-eye.

Intrigued by the behaviour of Nazi war-criminals, social psychologist and Yale professor, Stanley Milgram wanted to know if the people involved in the atrocities of World War II were just “following orders” from an authority figure or were they active participants. If he could test whether the average person would also succumb to an authority figure, like the many who did during the holocaust, could we really hold those who participated in the brutality of World War II responsible for their crimes?

The film stars Peter Sarsgaard and because of his immense, albeit underrated talent, I can get behind this film. What I can’t really get behind is Almereyda’s supposed directing style for this film. In an interview with the LA Times, Almereyda said that he thoroughly researched Milgram and was able to uncover footage of Milgram conducting his experiment. Because Milgram spoke to the camera in an almost Alfred Hitchcock manner, Almereyda thought this was the best way to present Milgram and the experiment because it seemed “playful”. Umm, I’m not really sure if I want to see this being presented as “playful” but what do I know? Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Anton Yelchin, John Leguizamo and Taryn Manning all signed on for this so, maybe the directing style could work?

For information and tickets: http://www.viff.org/festival/films/f14963-experimenter