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The Game of Death (Le Jeu de la mort)

Immensely engaging and highly provocative, “Le Jeu de la Mort” poses a controversial question: as reality television looks for even greater extremes to increase viewership, will we ever get to a point where onscreen death becomes customary entertainment?

In the early ’60s, prompted in part by the Adolf Eichmann trial, a series of obedience experiments were conducted by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram. It showed that ordinary people were far more obedient than imagined. The experiment involved the administering of electric shocks of increasing intensity by a “teacher” to a “student” when questions were answered incorrectly. The teacher could not see the student; they could only hear the sounds they made. Shockingly, despite the agonizing cries of the students as the shocks were administered, more than 60 percent of the teachers fully completed the experiment. It was later revealed that the students were in fact actors and no pain was ever inflicted, but the teachers had no idea that this was the case.

French documentary filmmaker Christophe Nick transposes this experiment to the world of television and game shows by recruiting a number of participants and dividing them into questioners and contestants. The questioners get to administer the electric shocks while the contestants get to win one million euros if they can get through the harrowing process of answering all the questions. A real television set comprised of technicians, a live audience and an attractive hostess are all present.

“Le Jeu de la Mort” is the result, and it is not pretty. Are we more compliant than those who participated in the same experiment 50 years ago? Does peer pressure or a desire to adhere to authority make us do things we would not ordinarily do? And what does it take for someone to simply say no? The answers lie here, and they are highly distressing. [Synopsis courtesy of Piers Handling/Toronto International Film Festival]