How far will an individual go in obeying orders and what are the moral consequences of such actions? The Holocaust has raised that question, as individuals participated in almost unimaginable atrocities under the guise of following orders.
Director Michael Almereyda’s “Experimentor,” shown at the 2015 New York Film Festival prior to its commercial release, dramatizes the experiment by social scientist Stanley Milgram at Yale in 1961 exploring human behavior. Peter Sarsgaard is very effective playing Milgram, leading us through the undertaking and making us privy to the methods being used.
Individuals are chosen to manipulate electric shocks in various degrees, in response to answers to questions being given by unseen persons whose voices can be heard. When the unseen person’s answers are wrong, the person at the controls is told to give increasingly high shocks. Most follow orders even when troubled.
What the person at the controls does not know, as depicted in the film, is that the set-up is rigged. There are no shocks being given and the noises of agony that are heard are enacted. Thus no one is harmed, but we see how far some people will go under authority.
Whatever value such an experiment can have is fodder for discussion. But the film is vivid in showing us the method, with excellent supporting cast members doing their bit. There is also a portrait of Milgram’s wife, nicely played by Winona Ryder. Although “Experimenter” gets somewhat pedantic and repetitious, it is effective enough to make one ponder the issues raised and think about them in relation to the atrocities committed in the world every day. A Magnolia Pictures release. Reviewed October 19, 2015.