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Experimenter brings irony and innovation to biography


Rialto Distribution is releasing the critically acclaimed Experimenter starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder. The biopic from visionary director Michael Almereyda takes a cool look at the works of social scientist Stanley Milgram with particular focus on his controversial study of human obedience as a reaction to the moral conundrum of the Holocaust: How could ordinary people let it happen?

The first obedience experiments took place at Yale in 1961. The test subjects known as the teacher were placed in a room with a facilitator (the experimenter of the film's title) and told to administer electrical shocks to another participant known as the learner whenever they made a mistake. From these results Milgram tested "how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist," Milgram explained at the time.

Experimenter mines the key biographical elements of Milgram's life such as his relationship with his wife (Ryder), his time at Harvard and his theories on social connections and authority including the now famous six degrees of separation experiment. All of it done with ironic counterpoint.

"Experimenter offers a heady brew of theories about the essence of human nature, and a Peter Sarsgaard performance that catches Milgram in all his seductive, megalomaniacal brilliance," writes Scott Foundas in Variety.

Screen International notes "Almereyda has created an experiment of his own: a kind of cinematic Rorschach test, prodding viewers to consider what they would do if sitting in the same seat as Milgram's subjects."

Michael Atkinson in the Village Voice notes the "movie is itself a rat-maze of one-sided mirrors, windows upon windows, anonymous hallways, compartmentalized instances of watching, being watched, seeing and not-seeing."

Sarsgaard was nominated for Best Actor in the Village Voice Annual Film Poll.

Experimenter will be out on DVD March 23.