So here is the thing. The Stanford Prison Experiment, the real one, is a fascinating thing. It was a fascinating little experiment, it’s fascinating for the debates it opened into methodology and scientific rigor and ethical standards, and for the way these privileged white kids turned on one another. Was it right to do it? Did it contribute anything to furthering human and scientific knowledge? Just what IS knowledge anyway? These are all very interesting topics to think about and contemplate.
In your mind. Like, it’s fun to read about the experiment and deeply consider whether what Philip Zimbardo was doing made any kind of fucking sense at all, and whether we learned anything from it other than that he is a megolomaniacal jerk and that white guys in the 1970s on liberal college campuses were fucked up. Why can’t the study be replicated? Why did the US military guards at Abu Ghraib engage in a lot of the same dehumanizing behaviour that the study recorded? Is this a function of personality, institutions, authority? Who the hell knows! That’s what makes science great!
But, especially when the real life deal is already awash with these kind of interesting mental gymnastics, it doesn’t really translate it into a very entertaining movie to watch! The cast is pretty good, with a lot of rising stars in it - Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller, that weird boot-faced kid from New Girl who never ever would have had a realistic shot with Hannah Simone. But, essentially, the plot just boils down to two hours of filming dirty hippies wearing potato sacks for dresses standing in a hallway in various stages of distress. I dunno, maybe that does it for you but I’d rather just spend 2 hours reading a magazine article about the real experiment and thinking deep thoughts about what the meaning of life is.
This is probably why no one ever comes to my birthday parties.