Das Experiment (2001)

Genres - Drama, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Prison Film, Psychological Thriller  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - Germany   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jeremy Wheeler

What happens when all of your human rights are taken away? How would you react if you've been handed complete control over others that have nothing? At one point, ordinary men were asked to role-play this scenario and it took only six days for things to get completely out of control. Based on the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, where psychologists tested 20 men in a simulated prison system as inmates and guards for two weeks, director Olivier Hirschbiegel and his respected writers have taken that basis and crafted Das Experiment -- a thought-provoking thriller that's as engaging as it is entertaining. The film plays on the positions of power on a psychological level, thus blurring the lines of reality for each of the characters -- most of the time with dire results. And while the actors are spot-on, with exceptional performances by Moritz Bleibtreu (of Run Lola Run fame) as the rebellious inmate Tarek and a nasty turn from Justus VonDohnanyi as the Hitler-esque Berus, it's Hirschbiegel's direction and unexpected twists in the story that propel this claustrophobic tale. Each tension-filled turn drives the viewer deeper into the nightmare, which makes the inevitable ending that much more satisfying when it finally comes (something the film's detractors love to loathe). At times hard to watch, Das Experiment isn't for everyone -- but those that are willing to take the plunge into this kind of heavy territory might be surprised just how refreshing the trip really is.