This is not your father’s Hamlet. The present melancholy Dane is son of the deceased chairman of Denmark Corporation. His castle is a sleek but alienating New York highrise dotted with omnipresent surveillance cameras, his kingdom city streets lined with paparazzi and tabloid reporters.
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.