Experimenter (2015)

Winona Ryder and Peter Sarsgaard in Experimenter (2015)

Dave author picExperimenter has a fascinating premise, but loses its way by focusing on the wrong subject. It opens on Stanley Milgram’s now-famous obedience experiments, wherein an unknowing subject provides near-fatal electrocutions to an innocent man who they believe to be failing a multiple-choice questionnaire – or at least, they’re led to believe that’s what they’re doing. The much-discussed experiments remain hugely interesting today, and give the film’s first hour a compelling momentum.

Unfortunately, around midway through the film, director Michael Almereyda shifts focus to the experimenter himself, Dr Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard). Despite some formal creativity – mostly expressed through an overtly-artificial aesthetic – the narrative slides into biopic tropes and my interest withered away. Milgram just isn’t interesting enough to sustain a story, particularly when he’s introduced as a narrator rather than a substantial character.

It’s still a decent enough film, driven by solid performances and peppered with enough intriguing ethical and psychological questions to keep you watching. But it feels like a missed opportunity. Cinema, after all, is the perfect medium to explore questions of authority, accuracy and responsibility. A more, shall we say, experimental approach to the film – one that treated the audience as subject, perhaps – might have produced more interesting results.

3 stars

 

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