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Peter T Chattaway

Experimenter

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I have no idea when The Stanford Prison Experiment will make its way to my neck of the woods, but in the meantime, here's *another* dramatization of a real-life morally-problematic psychological study from a generation or two ago:

 

 

For the search engine: Stanley Milgram. Milgram Experiment. Peter Sarsgaard. Winona Ryder. Jim Gaffigan. Anton Yelchin. ... and Kellan Lutz playing William Shatner!!


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I assume Lutz is playing Shatner in this film because Shatner starred in a fictionalized version of this story called The Tenth Level back in 1976. I've never seen it, but you can watch it on YouTube, starting here:

 


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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This is a very strong film. I have much to say about it, as I teach this case study regularly in my duties as a research ethicist at an extremely active research institution. It is the first time someone has made a good film about really fundamental human subjects research conflicts. 


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Arrrrrgh. I had a chance to see this during VIFF but skipped it because it would have meant making a special trip into town to catch a late-night screening (as opposed to my usual day-long trips into town to catch three or four movies). If I had remembered the fact that someone plays Shatner in this film, I might have gone after all.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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It is also one of the few good films that are about science while remaining a compelling narrative.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Given its early 60s context, extremely controlled palette and interiors, painstaking attention to things like sartorial detail, and post-war reflection on the determined nature of our behaviors and desires - this is a mirror image of Mad Men.

I have seen this a few times now, and I am pretty sure it is at the top on my list for the year.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I have seen this a few times now, and I am pretty sure it is at the top on my list for the year.

This is quite the statement, as I recall your appreciation of Mad Max films.

I do wonder what a second viewing would emphasize for me, as I found myself taken in by the performances and strangeness of the whole approach (i.e. the elephant). I also wondered how accurate of portrayal Sarsgaard gives of Milgram, but I'm unsure if the film is really interested in such accuracy.

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Joel Mayward wrote:
: I also wondered how accurate of portrayal Sarsgaard gives of Milgram, but I'm unsure if the film is really interested in such accuracy.

Well, Sarsgaard has already talked about how he's a Gentile playing a Jew, yet in the movie Milgram (or his wife) complains that he is being played by "a goy" in the 1970s TV-movie -- yet the actor who played Milgram in that TV-movie was William Shatner, who is Jewish!


So, the movie does play with some of those things.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I would love to hear more from those who loved this film.  I really wanted to love it, too, but came away impressed by moments, but not the work as a whole.

Sargaard's performance, the breaking of the fourth wall, and the artificial sets didn't work for me.  Just as problematic, there wasn't enough meat on these characters for me to feel connected to them.

On the plus side, Milgram's work is fascinating, raising interesting and troubling questions about human nature and our so-called individuality; this was portrayed nicely and quite intelligently at times.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

http://secularcinephile.blogspot.com

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I liked this a lot; I wouldn't say I loved it. I thought the breaking of the fourth wall became too much of a narrative crutch, and I thought the film lost a little bit of direction in transitioning to the later year's of Milgram's life. However, I thought the opening and the ethical questions raised throughout were fantastically handled, and that kept me mostly riveted throughout. I also found both Sarsgaard and Ryder to be very empathetic characters.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I would love to hear more from those who loved this film.  I really wanted to love it, too, but came away impressed by moments, but not the work as a whole.

Sargaard's performance, the breaking of the fourth wall, and the artificial sets didn't work for me.  Just as problematic, there wasn't enough meat on these characters for me to feel connected to them.

 

I hope to be able to write something in summary on this today, and something much longer will be published in Decemberish. Unless it is Resnais doing it, I also tend not to like playing with the fourth wall. It is the kind of decision a screenwriter has to make when they realize they do not have much to work with. 

But it is a powerful tool when used judiciously. In this case, breaking the fourth wall allows us to see Milgram as Milgram sees himself. I work with many social/behavioral researchers. I have conducted observational research myself. One of the essential poses in the psychological research enterprise is one of neutral observation. The researcher poses themselves as the omniscient narrator in a given experimental construct. It is - so they say - necessary to maintain this kind of distance in order to deflect bias. 

However, it is clear in Experimenter that breaking the fourth wall in order to instill objectivity into observation of a construct is... not always successful. Milgram is telling us the story of his life as if it were something to be neutrally observed and analyzed. But it clearly isn't. He is biased by his post-holocaust heritage (I would argue in a good way, but biased nonetheless). He is not always right about his relationships (e.g. the odd exchange about marriage and choice toward the end). His students do not always like him or his findings. 

So the pose is present through the fourth wall, but it breaks down. These intrusions of surreal elements like the elephant, or Jim Gaffigan screaming into the camera, these are all indications that there is more to the story than what we are being told by Milgram. 

 

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I hope you all get a chance to see it, as it remains one of my favorite films of the past few years. I have a pretty long essay on this coming out soon, but here is a snippet of that:

Quote

 

We are not sure when to trust Milgram’s self-description, or how seriously to take the parts of the film that are so obviously artificial. We are not sure whether we have become the Teachers or Learners in Almereyda’s storytelling process. The subtle conflict emerging from this interplay of social science, memory, and archival footage is a very interesting place to think about the film’s obvious themes.

Milgram’s work demonstrates that scientific observation is capable of describing key aspects of the human condition, especially the ones we prefer to hold at arm’s length. The scale of the Holocaust is impossible to comprehend, but the small, daily processes of genocide are actually easy to understand. They can even be replicated in a laboratory. The terrible simplicity of this thought is partly responsible for the fracturing Experimenter into various streams of surrealism, despite Adorno’s injunction that to “write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

But there is also a narrative aspect to the process of discovery that mirrors our own biographies. In an odd exchange, Milgram reveals to one of his participants that he is also Jewish. His name, Milgram, means “pomegranate” which is one of the seven species of Israel (two grains and five fruits that play an essential role in Jewish custom). The pomegranate is also often connected in Jewish tradition with the fateful fruit eaten by Adam and Even at the fall of man, whose seismic aftershocks Milgram’s work explores. This is an odd little rabbit trail to burrow into, but it is the kind of striking poetic detail in Experimenter that allows us to read between the lines of Milgram’s biography; these moments where the designs of social science and self-discovery, our own personal histories, and even the ghost of religious consciousness become indistinguishable.

Malcom Harris made this point well in an Aeon piece on Milgram’s work: “To view the Milgram experiments as a work of art is to include the haunted young doctor as a character, and to question his reliability as a narrator. As an artwork, the experiments can tell us about much more than obedience to authority; they speak to memory, trauma, repetition, the foundations of post-war social thought, and the role of science in modernity.”

 


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Wow, I really enjoyed this fim. Might be my favorite of the year.

Edited by rjkolb

If there were no God, there would be no Atheists.

G. K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936)

I'm still an atheist, thank God.

Luis Bunuel (1900 - 1983)

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