Today is the first in a new series of posts where I share a review of random unappreciated stuff.
I stumbled across Experimenter while doing my nightly Netflix surf. Anything above a four star rating usually catches my eye, begging further attention in the form of a synopsis reading or in extreme circumstances, an internet search. I must have read the synopsis for Experimenter on no less than five separate occasions before I finally caved and decided to watch it, each time resulting in a knowing nod followed by “Ohhhhh, that guy from those experiments from Psych 101.”
For anyone who didn’t take Psychology 101 in undergrad, Stanley Milgram, played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard (a buried treasure in his own right), conducted a number of psychological experiments revolving around obedience in the 1960’s. I’m not going to go into what the experiments entail as the movie largely revolves around them and describes them better than I ever could. Suffice it to say the methodology and results of Dr. Milgram’s experiments are quite shocking in a way that still influences social psychology to this day and the movie conveys both in a way that makes it hard not to reflect on your own agentic status.
The conveyance of this rich and sometimes complicated subject matter is aided by one of my favorite conventions – breaking the fourth wall. Whether its Frank Underwood showing us that he is just as sinister as we think he is, Wade Wilson cracking wise, or Jared Vennett guiding us through a mortgage bubble, speaking directly to the audience has come back into style. Breaking the fourth wall can serve to lighten the burden of expository material that is too cumbersome for conventional storytelling and at times can be used to draw the audience closer to the speaker, making it seem like you’re somehow in cahoots or in the know. Experimenter marries both of these uses to bring you closer to both the psychology behind the experiments and the man behind the experiments.