Das Experiment Review
Based on the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, which itself formed the basis of a BBC2 show recently called The Experiment which was mostly unsuccessful, Das Experiment is a film that has appeared five years too late.
The original Stanford experiment of 1971 was one of the most controversial psychological tests ever carried out, and featured twenty four volunteers divided by a flip of a coin into 'guards' and 'inmates' in a constructed prison environment, in which the behaviour of these volunteers would be severely monitored. The experiment didn't go according to plan, and for extensive details you can check out this website.
It's easy to see why the Stanford experiment is suddenly back in vogue again, with the twenty-first century obsessed by reality television and the dominance of shows such as Survivor and Big Brother. This is the problem with Das Experiment as a film, it views itself as a social commentary served with ultra-shock value, and yet in this day and age we as a society are completely desensitised to man's behaviour in controlled experiments. Five or ten years ago Das Experiment would have made waves across the world as a brutal and unflinching film trying to probe the contents of man's core. However, nowadays reality TV has been flogged to death, and we already fear the worse when it comes to anticipating how people will react in certain situations.
Anyhow, the plot of Das Experiment is relatively simple, with young taxi driver Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu - Lola's boyfriend in Run Lola Run) volunteering to take part in a social prison experiment as a way to re-launch his journalistic career. Using intricate spectacles that also act as a camera, Tarek aims to record the proceedings for a scoop he is planning. Once inside the experimental prison cell, Tarek and nineteen other volunteers are separated into inmates and guards, with Tarek being chosen as an inmate. It isn't long however, before Tarek's rebellious streak kicks in, and he is making an enemy of himself amongst the guards that soon causes violent and horrific clashes between both sides. Soon, the boundaries between what is an experiment and what is real erode.
Generally, the film feels contrived and cliché-ridden. We expect the guards to turn sadistic after time just as we expect the inmates to rebel and take liberties. There isn't just a guard-inmate relationship occurring in the film, but also a relationship between the guards and the professors who have designed the experiments, who seem to take on the responsibility of 'guarding' the guards. Just as the inmates rebel against the guards, so do the guards rebel against the professors. The point being that man, when caged and studied, will inevitably rebel. This is a fine point, so is there any real necessity for the stupid action-orientated third act that seems to borrow more from mainstream Hollywood than anything else? This final act ruins the film, and destroys any intelligence Das Experiment had stored by that point.
The central performance of Tarek Fahd by Moritz Bleibtreu is generally convincing, even if he seems slightly too innocent to ever be cast as a rebel. Justus von Dohnanyi is stereotypically evil as the sadistic guard Berus, a character whose puny physical appearance seems designed to contrast his disgusting treatment of his fellow man. A strange sub-plot exists in the film that features Tarek's on/off girlfriend Dora (Maren Eggert) involved in some romantic flashbacks, and it seems to offer nothing but slight titillation for anyone repulsed by the testosterone-filled antics on the screen.
At times, Das Experiment feels nothing more than a prime-time German television drama, with cheap, confined settings and two-dimensional acting. One of the few highlights is Rainer Klausmann's cinematography, which gives the film a suitable moody and claustrophobic tension through the use of its brooding lighting. The director of Das Experiment, Oliver Hirschbiegel, aims for a snazzy approach to the film but carelessly ignores the stronger themes. Rather then let the film be a brilliant social-satire, Hirschbiegel is content to appeal instead to the action market.
Much praise has been thrown at Das Experiment in its native Germany, and it even managed to become the official Oscar contender for Germany in the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Thankfully, the Academy saw sense, as there is nothing exceptional about Das Experiment, and it will tell you nothing new about the dark core of man's soul.
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the picture quality is mostly very good if slightly dark in terms of contrast. Images are generally very sharp with a slight amount of grain, and artefacts are kept to a minimum.
Presented in German Surround, with optional English subtitles, the sound mix of the film is very atmospheric, with deep rumbles accentuating the mix and the film's prison setting. The musical score fills the left/channels well, even if it isn't the most memorable of scores.
Menu: A static menu with only a few promotional stills from the film and limited options.
Trailer: Only the trailer for the film is provided, and is a brief subtitled promotional piece aimed at international markets.
Das Experiment tries but fails to do anything new in its studies of the morality of man, and we've just about had enough of all of this sort of behavioural studies anyway. The film's picture and sound qualities are decent enough, and it's a shame that only a trailer is present in terms of extras, but as a film this is strictly rental fare only.