What You Need To Know:
The German movie DAS EXPERIMENT is an intense, gory, brutal, and sadistic study of the innate depravity of man. In the story, a professor takes 20 men off the street and places them in a prison setting, where half of the men will play guards and the other half will play prisoners. A journalist, posing as a taxi driver, his former job, infiltrates the experiment, however, and instigates a series of confrontations with the phony guards. The professor gets caught up in the battle for dominance. “For the sake of science,” he allows the line of violence to be crossed. The disrespect, antagonism, violence, and humiliation quickly escalate to a tragic level.
DAS EXPERIMENT is very well crafted, with fine naturalistic acting. It contains, however, excessive violence, sex and female nudity (there’s a female doctor in the phony prison who almost gets raped). There are also many uncomfortable scenes of humiliation. Some viewers might not mind sitting through this movie if the end offered something comforting to meditate on as an antidote to the story’s display of total depravity. There was really no anchor of goodness or sanity throughout the whole of DAS EXPERIMENT, however.
(HH, B, O, VVV, SS, NNN, A, MMM) Humanist worldview that reduces the viewer to a hopeless observer of humans in an environment that robs them of their “reason”; a sense of conscience that seems to be based on biblical values; several scenes seem to indicate an occult psychic connection between lead character and his girlfriend; 21 obscenities and obscene gesture; extreme, excessive violence includes guards spray prisoners with fire extinguishers, then strip them, in order to maintain authority through humiliation, one man handcuffed naked to a jail cell bar overnight, man forcibly taken from cell with mouth and hands duct taped, man taped to chair and choked until he turns blue, guards each take turns shaving man’s head and urinate on him, man freaks out from pressure and punches guard in the mouth; guards beat man with stick and handcuff him, man shown having a panic attack as his cellmate tries to help calm him, guard detained with cuffs and duct tape, a bag is put over his head and he is beaten and added to the “prison” population, man clubbed over forehead for speaking out of turn and bleeds profusely, dying man loses control of his bladder and convulses, female doctor rescued from attempted rape stomps furiously on subdued guard, nervous guard accidentally shoots head doctor in face at pointblank range with blank pistol that causes severe bleeding, punished guard kills guard with a fire extinguisher to his head – final blow not seen, but bloody aftermath eventually is, fisticuffs, man shot twice in abdomen from pointblank range with blank pistol; naturalistic partial to full male nudity throughout, naturalistic female nudity (breasts), one fornication scene with glimpse of female posterior and breast, woman in revealing underwear, attempted masturbation, and attempted rape; prison guards sneak in a bottle and get drunk; smoking; and, anti-authoritarianism, pride, revenge, humiliation, greed, manipulation, hatred, cowardice, and disrespect for humanity.
DAS EXPERIMENT is an intense, gory, brutal, sadistic, and hopeless study of the innate depravity of man. The attitudes portrayed in this movie read like the seven most deadly sins – plus. They run the gamut from pride, to anger, greed, fear, revenge, manipulation, hatred, disobedience, cowardice, independence, and humiliation . . . among others.
A taxi driver named Tarek (Moritz Bleibtreu of RUN LOLA RUN) is recruited to be part of a mock prison experiment after responding to an ad in the local newspaper. Like many of the participants, he is hooked by the promise of 4000 German Marks if he finishes the project.
The experiment involves 20 men. Ten of the men are randomly selected to be “prisoners,” and the other 10 to be “prison guards.” They will play out their roles in a mock prison for 14 days. The rules are that the prison guards must keep order, but under no circumstances are they to use physical violence. If they do use violence, they are to be immediately discharged without pay.
The prisoners, too, must follow a certain set of rules to be enforced by the prison guards: “1) Prisoners must only address each other by their prison numbers; 2) Prisoners must address guards as ‘Penitentiary Officer’; 3) Prisoners must not speak after ‘lights out’; 4) Prisoners must eat their entire meals; 5) Prisoners must immediately obey every order given by the penitentiary officers; and, 6) Guards must punish prisoners for every violation.”
The premise of the experiment, and thus the story, seems similar to a well-documented experiment that had one person asking questions of another and administering an ever-increasing surge of electric shock, at an overseer’s command, each time the person answering the questions is incorrect. The experiment ends with the person who answers incorrectly receiving a “deadly jolt” and faking death. What causes the person who is responsible to punish the other to go all the way to a deadly end?
The prison experiment starts out friendly enough with the men joking, teasing and testing each other’s boundaries; after all, that’s the way men bond. Traditionally, throughout this bonding time, men will eventually acknowledge a “leader” and fall in line into a hierarchy.
By the time the first confrontation between the prisoners and guards arises, Tarek, the cabbie, is clearly pushing himself to the forefront of the prisoner population. He explains that, as a child, he never got along with his father and would do the exact opposite of whatever he was asked. That attitude seems to have been resurrected, albeit in a fun way at first, in the face of the “mock authority” in the “safe” experimental environment. This presents one of the underlying themes of the movie. Those in authority are seen as insecure and ultimately abusive, while Tarek’s rebellion to authority is seen as playful and harmless.
One of the prisoners is lactose intolerant. This means that milk products make him sick. The rules the guards have to enforce include that the “Prisoners must eat their entire meal.” As one of the guards presses the man to finish his milk, and the man insists it will make him ill, Tarek drinks the milk for him.
The embarrassed guard begins to take his job more seriously in light of what he sees as open rebellion and awakens Tarek (a.k.a. #77) in the middle of the night and calls him out of his cell and orders him to do push-ups. Tarek refuses and the guard awakens his cellmates to do push-ups with him. The other guards heartily approve of the embarrassed guard’s show of nerves.
The next day the milk issue arises again. This time the lactose intolerant man is threatened with push-ups unless he drinks. Once again, Tarek rises to the challenge and invites all the prisoners to do push-ups with their fellow inmate. They all, in a show of unity, get down from their seats at the dinner table and do 20 push-ups. The embarrassed guards, convinced that the milk sickness is just a rebellious excuse, and that Tarek is a troublemaker, see that push-ups aren’t a powerful enough deterrent to disobedience and realize that they will have to come up with a more persuasive punishment.
Tarek revels in the growing antagonism. Before he came to the experiment, he returned to his old job, a newspaper, and sold the editor on the idea of a story on the experiment for 10,000 German Marks. This is a variable the scientists could never have expected. He has been given a pair of eyeglasses with a camera in the frames to help capture his story. So it is in his best interest to push the story along with as much conflict as possible. He never realized the level of psychological and physical damage he would inevitably ignite.
Tarek’s next antic is what finally bonds the phony guards as a group and reveals their own true leader. Two guards enter his cell to mess up his bed and make him remake it. They intend to make an example of him before the other prisoners. Tarek pushes the guards into his cell and locks them in with his cellmates. Then, he stirs up the rest of the inmates by shaking the bars and mocking the surprised guards. He climbs the bars, as if he were a chimpanzee gone wild, and “flips the bird” to the cameras placed on the ceiling to monitor the experiment.
One of the guards, who had been quiet until now, remembers that he had heard that the only way to gain control in a situation like this is through humiliation. The guards come into the lock up area spraying fire extinguishers and stripping the prisoners bare. They subdue Tarek and lock him naked to the cell bars with handcuffs – overnight. Humiliation seems to work well and the guard who made the suggestion, Berus, becomes the clear leader of the prison guards and visibly is puffed up with pride.
From this point on, the battle lines are drawn between Tarek and Berus and their respective groups of men. The disrespect, antagonism, violence, and humiliation quickly escalate to a tragic level. The professor responsible for running the program, and for the safety of the participants, gets caught up in the battle for dominance between Tarek and Berus. “For the sake of science,” he allows the line of violence to be crossed.
While watching the struggle between the guards to keep their authority and the prisoners trying to maintain some sense of humanity, it was easy to imagine how horrors as extreme as the Nazi extermination of the Jews could have come about in the past. Lead actor Moritz Bleibtrau comments, in the film’s production notes, “The film touches on the most important questions of how people live together, handle authority and take responsibility for their own actions. These are precisely the mechanisms that lead to war.” Regrettably, the filmmakers offer no solutions, just the “profound” observation that man can be very ugly towards his neighbor.
The Word of God tells us to meditate on what is pure, lovely and of good report. Winner of several major awards in Germany, DAS EXPERIMENT is very well crafted, with fine naturalistic acting, but it contains excessive violence, sex and female nudity (there’s a female doctor in the phony prison who almost gets raped). There are also many uncomfortable scenes of humiliation.
Some, or many, viewers might not mind sitting through this movie if the end offered something comforting to meditate on as an antidote to the story’s display of total depravity. There was really no anchor of goodness or sanity throughout the whole of DAS EXPERIMENT, however. Instead of receiving even a glimmer of hope for redemption, I went home lamenting the enormity of what seems to be, at least according to the worldview of the filmmakers, an insurmountable problem. The good news is, however, that God has provided a way to redeem us from our sins, through the salvation of Jesus Christ.