If you become fixated on Peter Sarsgaard’s obviously fake beard in Experimenter, that’s all right. This is a movie that wants you to notice the artifice: It occasionally includes patently false backdrops, an otherwise unexplained elephant, and a protagonist speaking nonchalantly about his own death as he addresses the camera. Writer/director Michael Almereyda has been nothing if not an experimenter himself—his work includes the Gen-X Hamlet (2000) and a vampire film partly shot with a toy video camera, Nadja (1994). His approach works beautifully in Experimenter, an unexpectedly haunting account of the man who concocted a famous 20th-century psychology study.
If you don’t know the name Stanley Milgram, you know the obedience experiment: At Yale in 1961, Professor Milgram found that two-thirds of his subjects continued administering electric shocks to another participant until they reached the maximum level.
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