Prisoner’s Dilemma is based on psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his infamous 1971 prison experiment at Stanford University in which he recruited twenty-four undergraduate males, divided them into two groups—guards and prisoners—and set them loose in a makeshift prison in the basement of the psychology lab for two weeks. The script explores the reasons behind Zimbardo’s decision to run the experiment, including his rivalry with longtime colleague Stanley Milgram, who had become famous ten years earlier with his equally controversial experiment on obedience to authority, as well as his ambition to become a leader in the budding field of abnormal psychology. As Zimbardo’s experiment progresses, his subjects become overly immersed in their roles. Guards become uncharacteristically sadistic and begin humiliating and even abusing the prisoners. Zimbardo watches as conditions worsen, and though he attempts to scale back the actions being taken by the guards, his experiment is already out of his control. When the media begins covering the story, Zimbardo is faced with the toughest decision of his career. Though his results are groundbreaking, his subjects are suffering in the process. Will he draw the line? And at what cost?
Writer: Robert Cohen