A few nights ago, my boyfriend and I decided to watch The Stanford Prison Experiment via Netflix. I had heard about this film and was vaguely familiar with its context, but I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly it’s about.
The Stanford Prison Experiment, released in 2015, is an “American docudrama thriller film directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, written by Tim Talbott, and starring Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Thirlby, and Nelsan Ellis. The plot concerns the 1971 Stanford prison experiment, conducted at Stanford University under the supervision of psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, in which students play the role of either a prisoner or prison guard,” says the movie’s Wikipedia page.
I didn’t realize until the end of the film that The Stanford Prison Experiment actually occurred, only making the overall impact of the movie that much more significant. In actuality, the experiment was deemed a social psychology experiment that simulated a real prison within the university’s basement “that attempted to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. It was conducted at Stanford University on the days of August 14–20, 1971, by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students,” an associated Wikipedia page explains.
This film is a fantastic depiction of what can occur as a result of the abuse of power. It becomes apparent rather early on in the movie that the prisoners and the prison guards each perceive the influence of authority in different manners, with some prisoners and guards choosing to rebel, and others choosing to submit.
The original experiment was expected to last for two weeks, however, it was called off after six days due to unforeseen complications, and select prisoners choosing to remove themselves from the experiment as a result of physical and emotional trauma.
I found this movie absolutely fascinating, and I highly recommend it. It is an excellent portrayal of what can occur when power is used to one’s advantage, and further how said power can lead to adverse events.