The Experiment vs. The Wave
Can a higher power change your moral values?
Watch the above video to see a series of clips from these two movies to make some comparisons.
The Experiment is a 2010 film based on a real psychological experiment conducted in the United States. The experimental trial sought 26 volunteers to simulate the conditions of a penitentiary; some portraying guards and some prisoners. The subjects were told that the experiment was based solely on observing the habits of these two very different groups of people. In reality, the purpose was to see how these particular circumstances might change or affect the subjects. The psychologists in charge of the experiment give some basic guidelines and tell the subjects that if any violence occurs, a red light will flash, announcing an early end to the experiment and a result of no payment to the volunteer subjects. Throughout the movie , both groups test the limits over and over and push further and further, simultaneously watching the red light for indication of whether they have gone too far. When the light never goes off, ordinary men are pushed beyond reason and begin to change their moral values.
The Wave is a 2008 film that is also based on a true story, but this one occurs in Germany. It takes place in a high school that is having week long project classes, each class addressing a different issue. The main character in the film, the teacher, is assigned to teach about autocracy, even though he personally is an anarchist. His post WWII generation students have many questions and doubts about the Nazi dictatorship, and don’t believe that it could occur in modern day Germany. In response, the teacher begins to experiment by slowly creating a group, then a community, then a dictatorship in his classroom. Although his only purpose was to use this real life example to answer their questions about how the Germans allowed Adolf Hitler to rise to power, the experiment gets out of hand and the students also act in a way that is contradictory to their pre-existing moral values.
Although neither of these movies is directly religious, there are a lot of religious elements that can be extracted. I wish to explore the idea and question of whether or not a higher power can change what you believe in, in a way that challenges your moral values. Since neither of the movies reaches to God straightforwardly, one must think outside the box to see the higher power that is controlling each character in these two films. In The Experiment, the initial motivating theme is money. Each of the volunteers is there because there is a large check waiting for them if they succeed. However, once they are inside the experiment, the red light becomes their higher power: telling them what is acceptable and what is not. This molds and changes their pre existing moral structure, basically retraining them as they begin to take advantage of their roles based on how it makes them feel rather than what is truly right or wrong. There have been many cases in the religious world where higher powers, such as churches or popes, have tolerated or supported actions which achieved money, power or influence for their organization or members. Historically, as long as their higher power (or red light) didn’t stop them, they felt reinforced in continuing and even escalating their behavior. In The Wave, obedience to their teacher, who ultimately becomes their higher power/dictator, leads to the extreme outcomes of the situation. The students’ are subtlety retrained in the firm beliefs of strength through discipline, community, and action and this totally changes their pre-existing social organization, how they treat one another, and how they treat outsiders. This can be strongly related to how religions can become exclusive of others and religious differences can cause problems when believers identify too strongly as a group or are too fanatical in their devotion to their higher power.
• What pushes someone to change what they believe in?
• What role does a higher power have in changing one’s morals?
• What role does ultimate concern have in changing one’s morals?
• Does your social status make you more or less susceptible to having your morals changed?
• Once you have gone against something you believe in, do you think that you can go back?
In order for an individual to change what one believes in, there usually has to be something in it for their personal best interest. In The Experiment, the power that the guards have been given makes them act in ways that go against their pre-existing moral values. In response, the prisoners are almost forced to do the same because being taken advantage of has pushed them to change what they previously believed about themselves, about the others, and about humankind in general. A higher power also plays a big role in these changes. With the higher power seeming to support their self motivated actions (no flashing red light) the guards let their baser instincts and lust for power take them over, resulting in actions that they would have never dreamed of before. This seeming abandonment of their group by the same higher power forces the prisoners to take action and rebel , once again resulting in actions they never expected
In this film, ultimate concern is apparent, but also switches a little bit. At first, everyone is in the same boat their ultimate concern: money. However, as the experiment goes on, the prisoners begin to change their ultimate concern to not only getting out of the experiment but getting out alive. In order to do so, they must change their morals and act in a way that will achieve this new ultimate concern.
This movie does a good job of showing that social status does not affect your susceptibility to being changed. All the volunteers come from different backgrounds and social levels, yet all of them are ultimately changed in some way or another.
Once you have gone against everything that you thought you believed in, you may still be able to return but not without consequences. Every volunteer in this experiment will have consequences of the things that they did, the people that they quickly became. When they gave into the pressure and changed their moral values, whatever the reason, they lost the respect of others and especially respect for themselves.
Power plays an enormous role in this film and it is this that pushes the students that are involved to change their morals. The main thing is the sense of community that “The Wave” creates and gives the student, which in the end results in a sense of power, which ultimately results in their change. The higher power in this case would be the teacher, as he acts as their leader and dictator. The rules of conducts and organizational structure that the higher power provides are accepted by the students, and they believe in it with all of their being. They devote all their time and energy to obeying these rules to please their leader, and they allow themselves to be changed by it. Although their ultimate goal is not as apparent, it could be inferred that all they really want is to be a part of something, to be accepted. This undeniable desire drives them to accept this dictatorship, which ultimately changes their personal morals. This movie possibly shows that not social status but age may make it easier to change your values. The kids are young and naïve and long to be a part of something, the cliché search in high school to “find yourself.” This film also shows that sometimes when you go against the things that you have always believed in, you may not have the chance to take it back. For example the kid who commits suicide will never have a change the mistakes he made throughout this experiment. The teacher who started it all may never have a chance to redeem himself because of the consequences he may suffer. The students who witnessed the horrific ending of this experiment may be scarred for life. In some ways, once you change your morals so drastically, it may be impossible to go back.
Emphasis of the Religious Theme:
The leader of the guards believes in a God fearing power and uses it in order to get the prisoners to do whatever he pleases. The prisoners obey because they are subject of this higher power and they have their ultimate concern in mind: the money. In many religions people do things out of fear that they will not end up where their goal is, that they will not achieve their ultimate concern. On the other hand, the guards themselves use their higher power in itself which changes their morals. Even though it is just an experiment and the conditions aren’t real, they use their power to disrespect and abuse the prisoners, just because they can.
The Wave becomes such an exclusive group that it creates tension and problems with others in the school. Not only that, but some people that started off in The Wave recognize that it is taking a turn for the worse and try to get out. This can be related to the exclusivity that some religions have and how it creates problems throughout the world. Sometimes religions believe that they are the only right religion and they spend their time trying to convince others. There are often religious wars that can end in things like genocide. In the case of The Wave, the exclusivity ruins relationships and even ends in death.