Taglines: Illusion sets the stage. Deception reveals the truth.
Yale University, 1961. Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) designs a psychology experiment that still resonates to this day, in which people think they’re delivering painful electric shocks to an affable stranger (Jim Gaffigan) strapped into a chair in another room. Despite his pleads for mercy, the majority of subjects don’t stop the experiment, administering what they think is a near-fatal electric shock, simply because they’ve been told to do so.
With Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s trial airing in living rooms across America, Milgram strikes a nerve in popular culture and the scientific community with his exploration into people’s tendency to comply with authority. Celebrated in some circles, he is also accused of being a deceptive, manipulative monster, but his wife Sasha (Winona Ryder) stands by him through it all. EXPERIMENTER invites us inside Milgram’s whirring mind in this bracing portrait of a brilliant man whose conscience and creative spirit continues to be resonant, poignant, and inspirational.
About the Film
Yale University, 1961. Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) designs a psychology experiment in which people think they’re delivering electric shocks to an affable stranger (Jim Gaffigan) strapped into a chair in another room.
Subjects are told it’s about memory, but the experiment is really about conformity, conscience, and free will. Milgram is trying to come to terms with the Holocaust and to test people’s tendency to comply with authority.
Milgram meets Sasha (Winona Ryder), a former dancer living in New York. Their courtship includes a visit to the Yale lab, where Milgram’s experiment has yielded disturbing results: 65 per cent of Milgram’s subjects deliver shocks that may be fatal, obeying polite commands from a lab-coated authority figure (John Palladino).
(Actors portraying subjects include Anthony Edwards, Taryn Manning, John Leguizamo, Anton Yelchin and Danny Abeckaser.)
Milgram is working at Harvard when his obedience findings are reported in The New York Times. He is accused of being deceptive, a manipulative monster. Sasha – now Mrs. Milgram – fortifies his sense of empathy and ethics, as does his colleague Paul Hollander (Edoardo Ballerini).
At Harvard, Milgram undertakes now-classic research into human behavior, including the “lost letter” technique for assessing public opinion, and the Small World social networking experiment, the basis for “six degrees of separation.”
But the obedience experiments threaten to overshadow all else. When Milgram barges into a classroom to announce that President Kennedy has been shot, students don’t believe him – his reputation for deception has eclipsed his credibility.
Milgram fails to get tenure at Harvard, but he moves on, accepting a professorship at the City University of New York, where he guides graduate students, treating the streets as a vast experimental laboratory. All the same, he’s compelled to return to his obedience work, re-igniting debate with his book, Obedience to Authority, an Experimental View, published in 1974.
Milgram goes on the talk-show circuit, and sees his experiments distorted in The Tenth Level, a made-for-TV movie starring William Shatner (Kellan Lutz) and Ossie Davis (Dennis Haysbert). Although Milgram’s life is cut short by a heart condition, EXPERIMENTER’s tone is celebratory, and as playful and provocative as a Milgram experiment. A bold use of voice-over and rear-screen projections mirrors Milgram’s inner life and reflects his insights into human behavior, social structures, the interplay of reality and illusion.
What would you do? is an underlying question in major Milgram research. Experimenter aims to show how Milgram’s conscience and creative spirit continue to be resonant, poignant, and inspirational.
Directed by: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Jim Gaffigan, Edoardo Ballerini, Kellan Lutz, Dennis Hyasbert, Danny Abeckaser, Taryn Manning, Anton Yelchin
Screenplay by: Michael Almereyda
Production Design by: Deana Sidney
Cinematography by: Ryan Samul
Film Editing by: Kathryn J. Schubert
Costume Design by: Kama K. Royz
Set Decoration by: Nadya Gurevich
Music by: Bryan Senti
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: October 16, 2015