Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, has been dazzled by the cinema since age 6, when his parents took him to an evening screening of "Gone with the Wind." "It was unforgettable," he says. But the films that stuck with him most over the years have explored three themes — evil, heroism and hedonism — and actually inspired his research in those areas.
Zimbardo's best-known research is inspiring a feature film of its own: "The Stanford Prison Experiment" movie begins casting later this year.
gradPSYCH asked Zimbardo to share his four favorite flicks.
"Black Orpheus" (1959)
"This is a lovely, sensual movie, filled with amazing Brazilian music, all set during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It's a modern retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in a thrilling narrative of evil versus good that foreshadowed my focus in my book "The Lucifer Effect" (2007). "It's an excellent introduction to hedonism in its many forms."
"Zorba the Greek" (1964)
"This movie illustrates positive hedonism as a lifestyle of Zorba, in a memorable performance by Anthony Quinn. His mission in life is opening up others to the beauty, vibrancy, sensuality and sexuality of life. In celebrating the 'aliveness' of the human condition, the contrast is with the traditional 'future orientation' of Zorba's boss, Michael, and the two ultimately become unlikely friends. The final scene with Michael asking Zorba to teach him to dance on a remote beach after a business disaster is my favorite metaphor for living life fully."
"Cool Hand Luke" (1967)
"This is a painful lesson in how corrupt systems, in this case a Southern prison, beat down individuals who refuse to comply and conform to their rules. There's wonderful acting by Paul Newman as the rebel, who dies rather than yield. The rest of the cast is superbly evil. Sunglasses — to conceal the eyes and identity of the guards — are a symbol of de-individuation that I later adopted in the Stanford Prison Experiment by requiring guards and my staff to wear sunglasses at all times in the presence of our prisoners."
"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers" (2009)
"This remarkable documentary about the character transformation of Daniel Ellsberg from Vietnam hawk to dove, from State Department agent to traitor, is my favorite current movie. Ellsberg was my hero at the time that he helped end the Vietnam War earlier by releasing the secret Pentagon Papers, which revealed the repeated opinions of all U.S. generals that the war was unwinnable, but we were stuck in it with no exit strategy. Ellsberg risked a long prison term as a betrayer of state secrets to end that horrific war sooner."