The Game of Death (FRANCE)
TV is evil! Not only does it consume all of our time, deaden our brain cells and fatten our waistlines, it also turns us into willing torturers. That’s the premise of this provocative French documentary that recreates the famous 1961 ‘Milgram experiment’ as a television game show.
Its premise was simple: volunteers were instructed by a benign authority figure to administer electric shocks to another sitting in an adjacent room if they failed to answer questions correctly. Each wrong answer would cue an increase in shock severity. The test was designed to discover how many people would obediently follow instructions rather than follow their more compassionate instincts.
The trick, of course, is that it was staged – the ‘victim’ was an actor and the cries of were pre-recorded. Milgram was inspired by the trial of Nazi final-solution mastermind Adolf Eichmann, and in this updated version television is depicted as the new fascist method of control. The experiment is recreated by subjects now also faced with glaring lights, audience cries of “punish them!” and attractive French TV personality Tania Young as their commandant. In the original test, 62.5% of subjects saw it to its end – will the result be any different given these new conditions?
Writer/producer Christophe Nick has no qualms in making sweeping claims about the obedient nature of the human condition, and The Game of Death is riveting as both a social experiment and piece of filmmaking. Paradoxically, it also entertains by simultaneously criticizing and drawing upon the people-in-pain reality TV spectacle at which it takes aim. (JOSHUA BLACKMAN)