Psychologist Stanley Milgram made waves at Yale University in the early 1960s by conducting a controversial obedience study that highlighted mankind's uncanny ability to follow orders. In the early goings of Michael Almereyda's Experimenter, a strikingly unconventional biopic starring Peter Sarsgaard as the infamous scientist, subjects are asked to dole out increasingly higher charges of electric shock on another participant when that person answers a memory question incorrectly.
The findings conclude that almost two-thirds of people carried the experiment to its most extreme point simply because they were asked to by someone of authority. Milgram found parallels between his results and horrific past history. The Holocaust weighs heavily on both the psychopathy being addressed and the volatile reaction from the court of public opinion.
Almereyda doesn't try to solve the riddle of Milgram's life and obsession, but simply provide a context to understanding what made him tick. While the subject's personal life with wife Sasha (Winona Ryder) is less developed, the film does recognize her impact on Milgram's later experiments that dealt with staging scenarios testing human response to racism and gender dynamics.
Experimenter, which opens Friday, Oct. 23, at the Ken Cinema, refuses to play by the biopic rules. Gaps and contradictions in Milgram's story subvert the notion that his life can be explained in a linear fashion. The film's artifice appears front and center, represented in the form of fantastical touches (an elephant walks casually down a hallway), classic Hollywood rear-screen projection and direct-address narration.
Stylistic flourishes like these bring life to Milgram's ongoing persistence as a surveyor of human interaction. Unlike Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, a non-cinematic and repetitive vision of genius unplugged, Experimenter relishes in the ambiguity caused by Milgram's decisions and never lets its character off the hook. This is best expressed through his own words: "We choose our reality when we choose another person."
Experimenter: Michael Almereyda’s strange biopic about Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) looks at the execution and consequences of the famed psychologist’s obedience study. Screens through Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Ken Cinema.
German Currents San Diego: The fifth annual celebration will showcase the latest discoveries of German cinema in both narrative fiction and documentary. Screens Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25, at various venues in Balboa Park, including the Natural History Museum and Museum of Photographic Arts. For more information visit germancurrentssd.org.
Jem and the Holograms: Based on the popular cartoon, this coming-of-age fantasy concerns a small-town girl who is catapulted into fame after her underground music videos gain international recognition.
Olvidados: Damían Alcazar stars in this politically charged thriller set in Bolivia during the Operation Condor mission backed by the U.S. government. Screens through Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension: Again? Really?
Rock the Kasbah: Bill Murray plays an aging music manager who discovers a teenager with an extraordinary voice, then takes her on to Afghanistan to compete in the popular television show, Afghan Star.
Room: A mother and her young son are held hostage by a kidnapper for years, then escape to discover the outside world in this adaption of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel. Opens in San Diego Friday, Oct. 30.
Tales of Halloween: A horror film anthology populated by ghouls, aliens and killers prowling the streets on one fateful Halloween night. Directors John Skipp and Andrew Kasch will be on hand for a special Q&A at 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24. Screens through Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Last Witch Hunter: Vin Diesel makes sure the profession of Witch Hunter never falls out of fashion.
One Time Only
The Third Man: Joseph Cotton tracks down squirrely Orson Welles in post-war Vienna in Carol Reed’s film noir classic. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, at the Mission Valley Public Library.
Back to the Future: Robert Zemeckis’ iconic action comedy helped make Michael J. Fox a star. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Young Frankenstein: Mel Brooks brings the funny in this riff on the classic Universal Horror films from the 1930s. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 22 – 24, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Munyurangabo: This drama set in Rwanda follows two friends from opposing ethnicities who try to survive their hostile surroundings. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
The Conversation: Gene Hackman’s paranoid sound technician is starting to think he’s about to record a murder in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic 1970s political thriller. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Pedro Almodovar’s patented brand of heightened melodrama and mania is on full display in this classic from 1988 starring Antonio Banderas and Carmen Maura. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, at the Mission Valley Public Library.
Shaun of the Dead: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play deadbeat Londoners who try and survive the zombie apocalypse in Edgar Wright’s hilarious debut. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.