If you've ever opened a psychology textbook, you've probably heard of the Stanford prison experiment. In 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo simulated a prison environment at Stanford University by having randomly selected students pretend to be either guards or inmates. Things got very real very fast, and Zimbardo was forced to halt the two-week experiment after only six days. Today, it's considered one of the most terrifying and troubling moments in psychology history, and in 2015, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez put the controversial study on the silver screen, casting Billy Crudup as Zimbardo and tossing Ezra Miller behind bars as Daniel Culp, a.k.a. Prisoner 8612.
Culp is the first "inmate" we meet, and while he initially treats the experiment as a joke, he quickly realizes he's in way over his head. The students playing the guards are taking things far too seriously—especially Michael Angarano's character, who the kids nickname "John Wayne"—and Culp soon finds himself stripped naked, forced to exercise in the middle of the night, and physically assaulted, all before the correctional officers toss him into solitary confinement. Shocked by what's happening, Culp tries to lead a revolution, hoping to inspire his fellow test subjects to resist. He even tries to escape the university, but the combined might of John Wayne and Dr. Zimbardo eventually break his spirit and turn Prisoner 8612 into a broken, raving victim.
And really, that's just the start of the horrors to come, as things get far worse after Culp is sent home. Fortunately, filming The Stanford Prison Experiment wasn't quite as intense, with Miller telling Buzzfeed, "I was actually in a really comfortable and lovely working environment where I was surrounded by really delightful people who were filling me with good energy." However, Miller did say that he found the film incredibly relevant, explaining that he believes now is "a time when we need to ask questions about the prison system and whether prison is an effective form of rehabilitation."