The yowls of indignation that erupted around a screening of Compliance at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year—the agitated complaints of rank voyeurism—now seem a little overheated. The picture is unsettling, and sitting through it is sometimes uncomfortable. But as Kurt Loder notes, the question it raises—how can people be so easily manipulated by authority figures to perform vile acts against their fellow human beings?—has been contemplated before. The movie brings to mind the Nuremberg trials of top Nazis after World War II (in which “only following orders” was resoundingly disallowed as a defense) and the famous Milgram experiments of the early 1960s, in which volunteer subjects were directed to administer electrical jolts to an unseen person in another room, and continued to do so even as simulated howls of pain mounted.
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