Curiosity in Jewish Film Festival Experimenter ethics

Peter Sarsgaard stars in Experimenter, which screens as part of the 2015 Jewish Film Festival.
Peter Sarsgaard stars in Experimenter, which screens as part of the 2015 Jewish Film Festival.

Experimenter is as much of an experiment as the person’s work whose life story it covers.

It is a curious film, with an unusual style – simple and clinical almost to the point of sleep inducing, yet deliberately so and with conviction.

In light of the atrocities of the Holocaust, Jewish social psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1961 and his team investigate human behaviour and reaction under instructions by people in authority.

Two volunteers are used in which the ‘teacher’ must give an electric shock to the ‘learner’ every time they get a memory test wrong.

What the ‘teacher’ does not know, is that the ‘learner’ is a member of the team, the shocks just sound effects and his reactions and pleas to stop pre-recorded.

The object is to see how long the ‘teacher’ continues to inflict the shocks despite the cries of pain.

The findings are fascinating and troubling, but his students and the public question Milgram’s methods.

Experimenter begins coldly and dryly, but it is only when the ethics of the experiment are questioned this begins to develop some meat on its bones.

Writer/director Michael Almereyda’s stylistic choices don’t always work; some scenes play out unusually against dated rear projection resembling an amateur theatre backdrop.

The star-studded cast is watchable and for those who may find this film too slow, offer a little celebrity spotting fun as familiar faces pop up in cameos.

Experimenter screens as part of the 2015 Jewish Film Festival, on October 31 to November 8.

Session times and tickets at www.jiff.com.au.

THE ESSENTIALS

Experimenter (MA)

Directed by: Michael Almereyda

Starring: Peter Sarsgaard ,Winona Ryder, Taryn Manning

Three stars

Review by Julian Wright