It was 1961. The Holocaust was still more current event than history and the world was tuned in to observe the war-crimes trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann. In New Haven, Connecticut, a social psychologist had an idea: a revolutionary experiment that would test man’s obedience to authority and threshold for cruelty.
In Experimenter, which is out now in theaters, and available on iTunes and VOD, Peter Sarsgaard plays Stanley Milgram, the Yale scientist who arranged a scenario where subjects were instructed to administer electric-shocks to other people — even though they could hear their screams of pain from another room. Would they stop and refuse to participate? Or would they comply to some verbal prodding, even if they had reservations, because they were able to justify their involvement with something akin to “just following orders”?
In this exclusive clip from the film, Milgram interviews one of his subjects (John Leguizamo) after a tense session where he was asked to repeatedly shock another man (Jim Gaffigan). “Who bore the responsibility for the fact that this man was being shocked?” asks Milgram. It’s the million dollar question, and a million dollar answer: “I don’t know.”
Milgram’s Shock Experiment became huge news — and a huge controversy — when he published his findings in 1963. He was attacked professionally and accused of manipulating results, but subsequent replications have vindicated his findings to a certain extent. Are we all potential accomplisses to man’s inhumanity?
Experimenter, directed by Michael Almereyda (Cymbeline), also stars Winona Ryder, Anthony Edwards, Taryn Manning, and Anton Yelchin. Here’s the film’s trailer: