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The Stanford Prison Experiment | 2015 | R | - 6.7.10

Based on actual academic research for the US military during 1971: a psychology professor (Billy Crudup) sets up college students to portray prisoners and prison guards in a simulated medium security facility, with very disturbing results. Also with Ezra Miller, Olivia Thirlby, Nelson Ellis, Ki Hong Lee, Tye Sheridan, Michael Angarano, Jack Kilmer and Nicholas Braun. Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. [1:57]

SEX/NUDITY 6 - Students acting as prison guards force students acting as prisoners (all male) to have simulated anal sex: the guards command the prisoners to "hump," calling prisoners male and female camels and several prisoners bend over at the waist while guards hold them down; we see other prisoners stand close behind those bent over, thrusting their pelvises and the camera lowers to show the rocking movement of lower legs and feet while a guard shouts sexually suggestive remarks.
 A student acting as a prisoner is stripped nude by students acting as guards and locked into a closet called "The Hole" (we see frontal and back nudity, except genitals). Two prisoners are stripped nude and one is locked into a closet while the other prisoner is made to stand facing a wall in a cell with two other prisoners (we see both students in full back nudity). We see bare chests as students acting as guards change their shirts. Male students portraying prisoners each strip naked in a hallway as students playing guards laugh: we see one prisoner in full back nudity, shivering, as psychologists watch on a video feed; the "prisoners" receive numbers to serve as names on flour-sackcloth dresses that reach to just above their knees while also remaining barefoot and wearing panty hose rolled as caps on their heads.
 A man and a woman kiss for several seconds.
 Students acting as guards force students acting as prisoners to sing in falsetto voices as the guards laugh at them. A student acting as a prison guard forces another student acting as a prisoner to walk like Frankenstein's monster, hug another male prisoner and say, "I love you."
 A student acting as a prison guard tells another male student to fornicate with the floor and the student says that he does not know how to do so. Students acting as guards call male students acting as prisoners "she." A professor states to a colleague that they must feminize the prisoners to take away their identities. A male professor watches a live video feed of students forcing anal sex on other students from his office. During initial interviews for an experiment, male college students must answer whether they have sexual problems of physical and/or mental nature, and whether they have participated in rape, incest, or molestation and each student answers, "No."


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VIOLENCE/GORE 7 - We see a student arrested by two police officers in his driveway, blindfolded, not read his rights, pushed into the back of a cruiser and taken away as his younger brother shouts in fear and anger; students acting as guards and a "warden" deny all the prisoners a phone call and one prisoner is sprayed with a delousing chemical causing him to jerk, shudder and cough (we hear that all prisoners receive the same treatment and receive sackcloth dresses). Students acting as guards feed the students acting as prisoners small portions of food daily and the students acting as prisoners must wear a chain wrapped around the ankle while the students acting as guards call the prisoners names, shout at them continually, and tell them they are worthless. In the middle of the night, each night, students acting as guards turn on lights, hit cell bars repeatedly with nightsticks and make prisoners stand in the hallway, often performing calisthenics or holding difficult poses; one prisoner is forced to tear up and remake his bed a dozen times, as guard sneers and laughs.
 One of a group of nine students acting as guards imitates a movie Southern sheriff, with a thick accent, and he insults prisoners, shouts, swaggers, calls them names, belittles their masculinity, slams a nightstick around their heads on a wall lineup, forces them to do excessive exercise, starves them, wakes them up at night repeatedly for additional exercise, screams profanities, and forces the prisoners to have simulated anal sex (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details); he convinces them that they are imprisoned for real, cannot be released and he is the boss, who can do anything he likes to them (fellow guards follow suit).
 Students acting as guards slam students acting as prisoners into walls several times and threaten to beat them. A student acting as a prisoner refuses to repeat profanity required for the enjoyment of a student acting as a guard and the guard screams. A student acting as a guard punches a student acting as a prisoner in the nose and draws a little blood. A student acting as a guard hits a student acting as a prisoner hard in the face with a nightstick; the prisoner crouches and shouts in pain, and his face is a little reddened. A guard hogties a prisoner and drags him into a cell, where he leaves him for an entire day with his hands tied behind him to his ankles and his knees bent. A student acting as a guard sprays a fire extinguisher into a cell of three students acting as prisoners, who blocked the door with a bed frame; the chemical causes considerable coughing. A student acting as a guard provides very little food to students acting as prisoners and requires them to do sets of 40 each of sit-ups jumping jacks, and pushups; one prisoner must do pushups with two men sitting on his back and he grunts loudly. A student acting as a prisoner declines to eat breakfast and a guard slams him into a dark closet with two sausage links he must eat in order to obtain release from the closet, which has no toilet facilities. A student acting as a prisoner is locked into a closet and begins screaming that he needs a toilet and is sick; he is taken to the researcher playing a warden and the prison owner, who deny him medical care and send him back.
 Two prisoners are blamed in separate sequences for earning all prisoners punishment and after each punishment and at a guard's requirement, the prisoners taunt and insult the prisoner who caused them punishment; one of the blamed prisoners screams and cries in a near-psychotic break while locked in a closet and others beat on the door and shout. A student screams in a panic attack and rips up a pillow, feathers flying everywhere. A student acting as a prisoner unscrews an electrical outlet plate in his cell and uses inner parts to dismantle and pop out his cell door lock and he runs, but guards, a warden and the lead researcher stop him; he becomes angry, shouts, calls guards "fascist pigs," and urges fellow prisoners to defy the guards.
 Male students play prisoners and guards in an experiment in a windowless basement turned into a mock prison with a lightless closet labeled "The Hole" for solitary confinement. Students acting as prisoners are denied baths, they lose weight, look sick and become shaky, paranoid, and irritable during the experiment. Prisoners line up in a hallway and must recite their ID numbers loudly up and down the line until they all can do so instantly; they are next required to recite their neighbors' numbers and receive 20 pushups assigned for each mistake, for hours.
 In slow motion followed by normal-speed motion, students acting as guards throw all the bedding and cots from three prison cells into the hallway and have it all taken away on the second day of incarceration, leaving the students acting as prisoners to sleep on the floor. A student acting as a prisoner is forced to sing "Amazing Grace."
 Three out of 9 student-prisoners approach nervous breakdown and leave the experiment within three days and when researchers can find no replacement prisoners they cancel the experiment on Day 6 during a simulated rape event (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details). During experiment intake interviews, each student must answer if he has a history of domestic violence, crime, or incarceration and each student says no.
 A guard sets up each of three compliant prisoners with a cheese sandwich and a can of Pepsi as a reward, raising anger among the other prisoners. A compliant prisoner admits that he is homeless and content to stay in "prison" and the other prisoners and guards are shocked. An ex-felon portraying a parole board member belittles a prisoner and reads a rap sheet of crimes the prisoner did not commit and the ex-felon tells the prisoner that he will never be released. A professor asks a prisoner (student) why he sins and commits crimes when he believes in God and the student looks dumbfounded.
 After a few days' incarceration, a Catholic priest interviews each student acting as a prisoner; each student becomes confused and some become angry while several prisoners cry and ask why they suddenly need an attorney and to "take steps" for their release from prison instead of being allowed to leave the experiment per the contract they signed with a professor and the priest says that he is aware of no experiment; one student becomes shaky, cries, holds his head, and screams while another student tells the other prisoners that the prison is real and they will never be released. An ex-felon quits as a research advisor, until the lead researcher releases a sick student. A student acting as a prisoner is denied his eyeglasses by two guards that grab him and pummel him with fists. A student acting as a prisoner is denied his prescription vitamins, told that the scant food has enough vitamins. A student acting as a prisoner is denied medical care after his parents complain about his health on visitor's day; the student screams and cries in a meeting with the "warden" and he begins to go into a convulsion when he asks to leave the experiment according to his contract, and is denied release, but is offered a better than usual meal. Students acting as prisoners are given pencils and paper to write letters to loved ones to invite them to an upcoming simulated visiting day and they hear that visits depend on their good behavior; a student acting as a guard tells a prisoner's father on "visiting day" that prisoners have no rights in this prison and the lead researcher in the experiment tells an associate in a hallway that he fears the father will report him to the police while a visiting mother complains to the researcher that her son looks and acts very sick in only a few days' time.
 A professor's girlfriend, his research assistants, and an ex-felon inform the professor that in an experiment, he has become as abusive as the prison system he wants to improve; we see the professor's eyes glimmer as students acting as guards invent each new abuse for students acting as prisoners and he laughs, until the guards force the prisoners to have simulated anal sex; shaken, he watches on a video screen and finally cancels the experiment. Two men argue about a psychology experiment. Two men argue about the prison system angrily. A man becomes angry when a male professor questions him about prison research and shouts at the second man. A professor shouts at his research assistants; one assistant quits to go to a funeral and to drop out of the work. In an interview, a male student states that he became more and more profane and abusive in a prison guard role, because no one complained or told him to stop (we did see three prisoners tell him to stop, but he continued). A caption on screen states that the students in the Stanford Prison Experiment were not permanently harmed by their participation.
 Students acting as guards wear uniforms and dark sunglasses as they twirl large nightsticks; they beat on the bars of doors, on a closet door and on walls to scare students playing prisoners and one guard slams his stick hard and loudly onto a tabletop beside a prisoner at lunch, scaring the whole table of nine prisoners and causing them to jump.
 Researchers and students acting as guards offer no washrooms to students acting as prisoners for a two-week experimental incarceration; the guards place a metal bucket in each of three cells for three prisoners to use for defecation and urination; by the third day, a close-up of one bucket shows it full of yellow liquid with stools floating on top.


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LANGUAGE 10 - About 66 F-words and its derivatives, 1 obscene hand gesture, 16 scatological terms, 11 anatomical terms, 27 mild obscenities exclamations (shut-up, shut your mouth), name-calling, 6 religious profanities (GD, 10 religious exclamations (Oh My God, Oh God, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Holy [scatological term deleted], For Christ's Sake, Why In God's Name, Glory Be).


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SUBSTANCE USE - Male students answer questions about alcohol and drug use during interviews with most saying that they do not use alcohol or drugs, one student admits to alcohol and an unnamed recreational drug, and a man demands to have his vitamin pills and is denied. Approximately two dozen male students smoke cigarettes during interviews and meetings, college professors and colleagues smoke cigarettes in meetings, a student asks for a cigarette in a hallway and another student provides one and lights it, students portraying guards smoke several cigarettes, and a man smokes in a large room that simulates a prison visitor's room.


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DISCUSSION TOPICS - Prisoners, ex-felons, prison guards, human rights, the Nuremberg protocol for human experimentation, the Miranda law, marginalizing of women, loss of identity, fanaticism, abusive prison systems, the plight of the falsely accused but incarcerated, corruption in the American penal and educational systems, psychological studies, rape.

MESSAGE - The American prison system violates human rights. People can be awful and are too easy to accept authority, as well as to abuse it.

CAVEATS

Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.


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