Taxi driver and sometime journalist Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu) volunteers for a prison simulation experiment at a university, on the day before he accidentally meets Dora (Maren eggert), with whom he forms an instant bond. Next day, on the promise of DM4000 for two weeks work, Tarek is accepted into a group of 20 men, 12 of whom become 'prisoners' and 8 the 'guards'. Armed with spectacles containing a hidden camera, Tarek plans to revive his career in journalism and make another DM10,000 writing a story about his experiences as 'Prisoner 77'. His deliberate provocation riles Berus (Justus Von Dohnany), one of the guards, and is the catalyst for the simulation taking a violent turn with events escalating to deadly proportions. And when Dora hasnít heard from him for a few days, she begins to wonder why.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Big Brother devotees and prison movie fans (are there any?) are the most likely takers for this grim and rather turgid account of human guinea pigs who turn into human monsters. Is anyone surprised when ordinary men turn into violent, power crazed animals once they're handed uniforms, nightsticks and absolute authority? History is full of examples of what happens under these conditions (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Khmer Rouge Kampuchea, Security Staff at sporting events) so there seems very little point in conducting a fully-fledged scientific experiment to tell us what we already know. Often unintentionally funny, Das Experiment features in its cast a female doctor named Grimm (Andrea Sawatzki) and an unethical supervising Professor (Edgar Selge) who look like they've been recruited from Dr Josef Mengele's talent agency. Is this another instalment in Germany's exorcism of its Nazi past? Maybe, but it's not a very good one and plays like a reality TV show run amok. For real-life prison drama the German film Stammheim (1986) is far superior and the undercover journalist plot was handled infinitely better in Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963). Moritz Bleibtreu (Lola's boyfriend in Run Lola Run) is at least a dynamic presence in the middle of a thoroughly predictable outing that is undeniably well acted, well filmed and has an exciting final reel. Unfortunately it has nothing new to say and takes an overlong two hours to state the obvious.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Based on the novel, Black Box, Das Experiment is a bone crunching drama which echoes with the primal and eternal truths of human nature Ė which is why it is unsettling, frustrating and ultimately harrowing. But sadly, predictable. Sadly for the human race, that is. In a nutshell, Das Experiment explores how men (and in this case, only men) respond to imposed authority, where power is shifted by edict, not by natural evolution. What happens, of course, is that each individual responds to this uniquely, but those who can, are able to seize power of the most basic and brutal kind. The thrust of the film is that experiment or not, human beings behave a certain way, with (predictably) dangerous results. Here, the confines of a mock prison inside a university are not enough to moderate most of the menís behaviour Ė on a larger scale, we would be witness to the seeds of war. Or tyranny. I havenít read the book, and canít comment on the adaptation, but the one weakness in the plot (supervising professor and his assistant briefly leave the video monitoring area which continually observes the experiment) may be too trifling to mention, but I think it should have been reworked. Apart from that, I think the film is a powerful debut for director Oliver Hirschbiegel, sound and music are used effectively and performances are striking all round.
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EXPERIMENT, DAS (MA)
CAST: Moritz Bliebtreu, Christian Berkel, Oliver Stokowski, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Justus von Dohnanyi, Nicki von Tempelhoff, Timo Dioerkes, Edgar Selge, Andrea Sawatzki, Maren Eggert
PRODUCER: Norbert Preuss, Marc Conrad, Fritz Wildfeuer
DIRECTOR: Oliver Hirschbiegel
SCRIPT: Mario Giordano, Christoph Darnstadt, Don Bohlinger
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rainer Klausman
EDITOR: Hans Funck
MUSIC: Alexander von Bubenheim
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrea Kessler
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: December 5, 2002 (other states to follow)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: AV Channel
VIDEO RELEASE: August 13, 2003