Experimenter Blu-ray Review
Before the guilt inducing ABC program, WHAT WOULD YOU DO, and the various Youtube videos documenting people’s reactions to pranks, there was Stanley Milgram. There was no audience, no ads, and no reason, other than the advancement of science and our understanding of the human condition as a drive to test people’s morality. EXPERIMENTER is about his noble pursuit as well as Milgram, himself.
For those who don’t know about the Milgram Experiment, in a roundabout way, it’s the butt of a joke in GHOSTBUSTERS. But instead of Dr. Venkman shocking people to get in a girl’s pants, the real Milgram Experiment was used to test obedience. It’s a simple test really. One person is chosen as a teacher and the other as a learner. The learner is constant. The teacher is told by the moderator to ask the learner questions. For every wrong answer, the teacher is to administer a shock to the learner, increasing in level with every wrong answer. What the teacher doesn’t know is that the learner’s reactions are pre-recorded.
The idea behind it is to see how far the teacher will go and, no pun intended, the results were shocking. Milgram (Sarsgaard) culled the opinions of psychologists and they believed people would not administer increasingly violent shocks from an authority figure as the learner would allegedly plead for the experiment to stop. But that’s not what happened. In many instances, the people in the role of teacher would continue with the experiment until the max voltage was reached, with the notion that the learner had possibly been harmed to the point of passing out or death.
This would be Milgram’s most important and vital study in his career, and understandably so. At the time of his experiments, Nazis were being put on trial with the big question being, “How could you simply be just following orders when lives were at stake?” Milgram didn’t necessarily answer that question, but he found an inherent weakness in humanity. A lot of people will follow orders, sometimes blindly. It spawned multiple theories, some of which Milgram pieced together on his own accord, but like most matters, especially in science, those theories will always be up for debate and discussion.
I know at this point I haven’t talked much about EXPERIMENTER, but it’s a movie that does exactly what the Milgram experiment did, spawn thought, reflection, and discussion. The Milgram Experiment is replicated and redone every once and a while and is still prevalent in today’s pop-culture. It’s on primetime TV in an attempt to guilt us into doing the right thing. But EXPERIMENTER is more than a reminder that we should probably learn to question authority more, especially when it comes to inflicting pain upon others.
Sarsgaard carries Milgram like the introverted genius that he’s portrayed as. Milgram is always willing to admit his mistakes and not gloat about his successes. Much of the movie is framed through Sarsgaard narration as Milgram, and Sarsgaard carries EXPERIMENTER with a firm and steady voice. Some complex thought is whittled down to simplistic words to help carry viewers through the complexities of experimentation. A lot of that can be attributed to Almereyda, who directed and wrote the movie.
Winona Ryder plays Milgram’s wife, Sasha, and helps inject some personality into the monotone Sarsgaard. Adding a bit of humility to the Milgram, helps us understand that his only goal with his experiments were not selfish, but were inherently about the scholarly values. EXPERIMENTER is a great biographical flick, both in Milgram’s life and Milgram’s experiments. It’s short enough to enrich a college classroom, but a little too dry to entertain a young audience. EXPERIMENTER is a movie you don’t watch alone, it’s much more appreciated with other people who can help dive into the psyche of humanity; much like Milgram did for so many years.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1:85:1) The nuances of the 60’s is captured beautifully on this blu-ray. There aren’t any eye-popping set pieces or designs that are allowed to stand-out, but nonetheless it’s an excellent presentation.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The soundtrack and dialogue is mixed well, considering Milgram speaks in such a hushed tone throughout.
The Making of EXPERIMENTER (5:51): This is a short, simple, and to the point behind the scenes feature, talking with actors and producers about the historical background of the film. It also speaks with Milgram’s real-life wife, Sasha.
Understanding Stanley Milgram: An Interview with Joel Milgram (5:33): Joel Milgram, talks about his brother in a favorable light, but his purpose on this feature is to praise Sarsgaard’s performance. It’s hard to tell if it’s genuine or something the producers forced upon him.
Designing EXPERIMENTER (5:10): Production designing isn’t my cup of tea, but from what I can tell, it’s interesting for those who are interested in it.