When I was in college, I studied Psychology for a year. I’d have gone on to do a second, but I failed quite spectacularly in the exams. My written work in class was excellent, but for some reason I just blew it in exams. Regardless, I loved my psychology class. I’m fascinated by how the mind works, and I still remember a lot about all the studies I learnt about, although names and dates have been discarded to my memory dump.
That said, when I stumbled across a movie called Experimenter, a Biography about social psychologist Stanley Milgram and his obedience studies, I knew I had to watch it!
In 1961, Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) designs a psychology experiment to see how people react when acting as a teacher, giving electric shocks to a learner to teach them memory techniques. Each time the learner got a word pair wrong, the teacher would give them an electric shock, with the voltage going up each time. The voltage of the shocks went up to deadly levels. The twist on the experiment was that the learner was a part of Milgram’s team, and wasn’t actually receiving shocks.
Milgram was shocked to find that 65% of his subjects went all the way with the experiment, and despite showing their discomfort with the situation, when told by an authoritative figure to continue, they did.
Let me get back to the movie, as I’ve already learnt I have no talent in psychology essay writing. The format of the movie is a documentary, but a little different. Stanley Milgram himself tells us his story, and the movie itself is shot to look like it was filmed in the 60s or 70s too, with terrible green screens. I’m not sure I enjoyed that element, I’d have prefered some sort of narrator, but it was something different, at least.
One element I really enjoyed was the story of how Stanley Milgram met his wife, Sasha (Winona Ryder), and how she became fascinated with his work. Having only learnt about his work, it was interesting to hear more about the man himself.
If you have an interest in the subject anyway, Experimenter will be a fascinating watch for you. I wouldn’t describe it as entertaining per se, but it was a compelling watch for me, and reignited that interest I had years ago.