by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 5, 2016


Michael Almereyda recounts the life and work of Stanley Milgram, who famously conducted a sociology experiment that showed how most people, when given an order to unlit pain and suffering on others, would follow that order -- even if they didn't like it, or even if it made them sick with guilt and apprehension.

As happened with other controversial researchers probing well past the comfortable surface veneer of civility and into frightening, primitive recesses of the human mind and body, Milgram saw his work -- and himself -- subjected to savage critiques -- or, rather attacks, with his accusers relying more on moral outrage than scientific methodology.

This period piece may remind viewers of films like "Kinsey" or, especially, the AMC drama "Masters of Sex." But Almereyda's film boasts a crucial difference: The film repeatedly uses deliberately fake-looking sets, projections, and other visual effects to remind us that we're watching a movie. Star Peter Sarsgaard, playing Milgram, breaks the fourth wall here and there to narrate the story.

The movie is disturbing on any number of fronts, but it's also cheeky and even kind of fun. The special features, on the other hand, are poorly planned and edited. There are three, and they are brief: "The Making of Experimenter" and "Designing Experimenter" offer us some intriguing tidbits about the project, the vision behind it, and its execution, and clips from the movie are used liberally. But the featurettes feel rather rough and formless, and the clips end up being the connective tissue that holds them together rather than serving to illustrate any definite thesis.

"Understanding Stanley Milgram: An Interview with Joel Milgram," the third featurette, is a little better in that it relies on the recollections and observations of Milgram's brother. More clips litter this short essay, also, but Joel Milgram succeeds pinpointing a picture of Stanley that intrigues and informs.

Watch "Experimenter" if you have an interest in sociology, or are a fan of period pieces, or simply want some insight into what makes good people follow bad commands from those in authority. But if you're looking for straight-up drama told in a more traditional manner, or a glossy cinematic treatment of a fascinating scientist and his unsettling investigations, this might not quite be your cup of tea.

"Experimenter: The Stanley Milgram Story"





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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.