THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT – Review by Susan Granger

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Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez examines the psychological research conducted in August, 1971, by Dr. Philip Zimbardo and funded, in part, by the U.S. Dept. of Naval Research. Zimbardo randomly divided 24 Stanford University students into prisoners and guards and placed them in an improvised prison in the basement of Jordan Hall, paying them $15 a day to participate. Read on…

Almost immediately, as the volunteers assumed their assigned roles, they exhibited behavior that reflected distress and despair, abuse and degrading, sexualized humiliation, proving how situation shapes conduct.

As one of Zimbardo’s graduate-student assistants says, “I don’t think we can call this an experiment anymore. It’s a demonstration.”

Taught in journalism classes today, this notorious study illustrates questionable methodology/ethics, the frightening pliability of reality, and the effects of power in all its permutations. It’s another “Lord of the Flies.”

Adapted by Tim Talbott from Zimbardo’s 2007 book, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” it’s a horrifying re-enactment, featuring Billy Crudup as imperious, often patronizing, Zimbardo who later served as an expert witness in one of the Abu Ghraib trials.

Ezra Miller (“Trainwreck”) delivers a memorable performance as rebellious Prisoner #8612, along with Michael Angarano (“The Knick”) as the cocky, manipulative guard who adopts a John Wayne persona, complete with swagger and Southern drawl.

And there’s a simmering class/race undercurrent, epitomized by Zimbardo’s ‘consultant,’ Jesse Fletcher (Nelsan Ellis), an ex-con who spent 17 years in San Quentin.

Working closely with Alvarez, cinematographer Jas Shelton emphasizes the claustrophobia with tight close-ups and tracking shots up and down the hall.

Unfortunately, there are no backstories about the students, except poor Prisoner #2093 (Chris Sheffield), who was living in his car for the summer.

And the muddled third act wavers between ambiguity and cautionary oratory, followed by a bewildering epilogue that seems at odds with the rest of the narrative. It’s amazing that Zimbardo and the University weren’t sued by the subjects.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is an intense, provocative 6, as role-playing goes horribly awry.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.