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002 Tarek (Moritz Bleibtreu)This new German movie is based on a novel, Black Box, by Mario Giordano, which drew on the famous Stanford Prison Experiment for inspiration. In 1971 the university began a planned two-week experiment into the psychology of prison life by dividing up a group of students into prisoners and guards. The whole thing had to be scuttled after only six days when the guards became sadistic and the prisoners showed signs of extreme stress and depression. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel effectively translates the psychological horror of the experiment, skillfully peeling away the layers of acceptable behavior until the grisly final third of the film. A study in what happens when you strip away the power from one group and give it to another, The Experiment casts stereotypes – the rebel, the submissive, the sadist – in easily identifiable roles. It’s no surprise that Tarek Fahed, Number 77 (Moritz Bleibtreu) is the rebel, he has the look of a troublemaker, what is surprising is the idea that by simply changing their clothes to shapeless prison smocks or dark blue guard uniforms changes the personality of the characters. The prisoner’s dress-like smocks strip away their masculinity, making them subservient to the sharply dressed authority figures. The Experiment packs many ideas into its 114-minute running time, and by the end you’ll be questioning the very nature of all relationships, not just institutionalized ones.

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