Das experiment
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Director: David Wellington

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The unnerving horror thriller Das Experiment (2001) is totally convincing. It is based on an actual experiment that had to be shut down prematurely because the participants had begun to endanger one another. A prison environment has been created for the experiment, inhabited by a population of volunteers who have agreed to be the prisoners, & who agreed to be the guards. Within one day the dehumanization process begins, & it is not long before everyone has lost sight of the fact that this is an experiment or game.

The real experiment was conducted in 1971 by Stanford University. That experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but had to be shut down in only six days, by which time the "guards" had already become sadistic & the "prisoners" were already descending into clinical depression. Das Experiment shows the experiment re-conducted in Germany, & posits what would have happened if the scientists in charge failed to stop the experiment in time.

What happens is the dehumanization process proceeds inevitably to murderous conclusions, & the power-mad nature of the guards begins to spill outside of the experiment to control the researchers as well. Anyone who retains any iota of their humanity will be the first destroyed, & like a nation following a president's orders into battle, a charismatic leader can command the situation to the detriment of all.

It is a bleak portrait in miniature of plausible dystopia. This film haunted me for days & days after seeing it. Now & then one wishes to think well of humanity, but a film like this one won't let us evade some harsh truths about the human condition.

A Man in UniformHenry Adler (Tom McCamus) is A Man in Uniform (aka I Love a Man in Uniform, 1994). He is a nondescript bank worker & wannabe actor who after years of failure is unexpectedly hired for a television cop series. It's not a permanent gig as his character is to be killed after a few episodes, but it's a very nice story ark, & he does a pretty good job of it. This could well indicate his dream to be a working actor could really be coming true, if only he weren't just a little too lonely, loony, & potentially dangerous.

He talks the costume department into letting him take his officer uniform, cap, badge, holster, leather jacket, nightstick home with him after each day's shoot, so that he can practice his role in full character. But what he really does is stroll around the city in dark glasses passing as a cop. When his attempt to be a figure of authority goes awry, he ups the ante, obtaining a gun from a burglar who was hardly more than a child, & buying some bullets.

He has seen a police officer in the street & a guard in his own bank killed in the line of duty, & fully knows that he's putting himself in the way of danger. One wonders very soon if he's going to turn psycho & start killing people, or if the glamour of the thing wasn't in seeing cops get killed, incuding his own character on the tv show, & someone just might draw a gun on him to his final regret.

The script is so good at times that one almost wishes it never would go "over the top" because the threat of violence is more evocative & character-enriching than any exploitation scenes ever could be. If Atom Egoyan had directed, his focus on warped humanity would've been enough, & he'd never quite get round to actual violence since the disturbed personality of the faux cop is way too interesting in itself. But this strange little thriller aims to please the lowbrow as well as the highbrow audience.

He stumbles onto a couple of police officers committing rape, & there's automatically an assumption that the "thin blue line" will keep the seeming-rookie from reporting what he has seen. One of these bad cops takes him under his wing & brings him along on a shake down of a gangster. This leads to the expected violence followed by the psychological repurcussions for our Mr. Nobody who has become an Evil Cop.

Feeling empowered he climbs out of his hermetic shell & makes aggressive moves on a fellow actor, a beautiful young woman (Brigitte Balko) whose character he saved in the television dramam who has no earthly interest in him outside of the shared work. As he has lost any clear distinction between who he plays on the show & who he pretends to be in the streets, he believes he & this young woman have the same soulful romantic connection that was written for television. Since no one else shares this delusion, stalking this woman in full police costume just massively freaks her out, & we cannot help but worry for her life.

After his character is killed on the cop show, he's out of work entirely, having quite at the bank. Plus he still can't get laid; & even in police uniform he can't find the place of respect & authority he has sought. His father (David Hemblen) has in the meantime died & his last slight connection to any living being is gone. Whether truly insane or just desparate, he steals his costume from wardrobe with the intent of continuing his secret life.

By the climax, this actor's monotone performance no longer seems like amateur acting but a very intentional stylization indicating a deeply disturbing depression. And his grasping at fantasy seems less delusional than just desparate.

This is a great film. It has some cheeziness to it, it's true, as it is not totally slick & professional. But the indy roughness of the acting & direction far from injuring the tale lends it to be all the more convincing. And the film's very last line of dialogue, when Henry finally achieves a passing moment of dignity he has always sought & never received, is worse than bittersweet, it's totally sad.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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