Billy Crudup

Sundance 2015: ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ a claustrophobic tale of ego and wits under duress

Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment is a darkly comedic dramatization of a frightening real life experiment conducted in 1971 by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo. It spun wildly out of control over the course of just 5 days. Two dozen Ivy league men are drawn to the experiment for money. Screened for good mental health and randomly assigned positions as guards or prisoners, conformity is set to be examined under the the microscope in the basement of prestigious Stanford. The experiment starts out informally as they are given uniforms and plopped into their cells and guard rooms. It soon spirals into degrading mental abuse and physical deprivation. That this happened is not in question but how systematic torture ensued couldn’t have been anticipated. The Stanford Prison Experiment is a claustrophobic tale of ego and wits under duress that retains suspense not in the outcome but in its execution.

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