Led by an arresting, coolly clinical performance from Peter Sarsgaard, this potent examination of one of the most controversial figures in social psychology is as indelibly stylised as it is intellectually stimulating.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
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Social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s obedience tests, conducted at Yale during the 60s, are studied, referenced and debated to this day. Reconstructing these polarising experiments, in which subjects were instructed to administer painful electric shocks to a stranger, filmmaker Michael Almereyda explores the troubling implications of Milgram’s landmark study against the backdrop of his personal life. Ingeniously structured and slyly provocative, his film might be the most distinctive biopic you see this year. Shaking off genre tropes, Almereyda seems less interested in ticking off Milgram’s substantial achievements than he does in examining the sociological impact of that most significant of milestones. Peter Sarsgaard’s performance draws us deep into the question of his own responses to the behaviour he’s exploring. Winona Ryder is vivid as his wife. — JF
“Readers who’ve heard of only one psychology experiment in their lives probably know Milgram’s: in 1961’s ‘obedience study’, he found that the majority of subjects would give fellow volunteers horrible electric shocks if instructed to do so by an authority figure. The shocks weren’t real, but the subjects didn’t know that; the increasing discomfort of his obedient participants led many to call Milgram’s ethics into question and the experiment remains a campus debate-starter today.” — John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
“Almereyda has created an experiment of his own: a kind of cinematic Rorschach test, prodding viewers to consider what they would do if sitting in the same seat as Milgram’s subjects.” — Anthony Kaufman, Screendaily