Monday, 26 October 2015


Experimenter is a playful experiment of Michael Almereyda's own. Exhausting his subjects' full intellectual capacity, and forming at once a period point to the psychological debate it enters into and a defiant snub to much of that debate, Almereyda seems to find no alternative but to soak his potentially dry, analytical biopic in humour. There's a certain smugness to it all, no doubt, but it somehow feels earnt - Experimenter is an intelligent piece of work, and its self-satisfaction is mitigated by an equal sense of subversion that leavens the tone. If he neglects to mirror Stanley Milgram's techniques of deception and illusion, Almereyda seeks a similar purpose: hoodwinking his viewer one way after another, screwing with the standards we expect from biopics, or psychological inquiries, or formalistic chamber pieces. It's under such an analysis that almost anything in Experimenter becomes excusable - damaging details such as a slackening in the direction in the film's latter half, or a tendency to comment upon the philosophical discourse which it both depicts and contributes to in such a manner as to discourage further commentary, are actually wholly forgivable in the context of the film's wider scheme. Some of Almereyda's ploys are a little too overt (the literal elephant in the room being overtly overt), but even their negative impact is negligible in a film so full of thought and thoughtfulness. Peter Sarsgaard is as subtly effective as ever (though his fake facial hair is less subtle), and Winona Ryder turns in mature character work, the likes of which she's rarely remembered for, yet has always been best at.