The Harrad Experiment

Watch The Harrad Experiment

"Harrad College... where free, liberated relations between coed students are encouraged!"
  • R
  • 1973
  • 1 hr 37 min
  • 4.6  (847)

The Harrad Experiment is a thought-provoking 1973 film that examines how society's norms and expectations ultimately impact our behavior and choices. The movie is set in Harrad College, a fictional liberal arts school in California that encourages alternative forms of education, including communal living and co-ed dorms. The story follows two freshmen, Stanley (Don Johnson) and Sheila (Joyce Van Patten), who enrol in Harrad College to explore their sexuality and challenge the traditional values they grew up with. They are promptly placed in a dorm along with two other couples, Harry (Michael Greene) and Beth (Laurie Walters), and David (Bruno Kirby) and Susan (Victoria Thompson), who are already primed to embrace the polyamorous philosophy of the college. The four couples soon form a close bond, and the movie explores how they navigate their relationships both within and outside of the dorm.

The movie is loosely based on the 1962 book of the same name by Robert Rimmer, which details an experiment in which a college attempts to encourage romantic and sexual exploration. The book was controversial at the time of its release, and the film adaptation also raised eyebrows for its frank portrayal of nudity and sexual themes. Nevertheless, The Harrad Experiment features some thoughtful characterization and sincere performances, particularly from Tippi Hedren as Harrad's headmistress and James Whitmore as Professor Philip Tenhausen, who oversees the experiment and provides philosophical musings throughout the film.

What makes The Harrad Experiment particularly interesting is how it addresses the limitations of the experiment itself. While the movie doesn't necessarily condemn the idea of communal living or polyamory, it does acknowledge that these lifestyles can be difficult to maintain, particularly in a world where social norms and legal restrictions still heavily favor monogamous relationships. Sheila, for instance, initially feels empowered by the idea of having multiple partners, but she soon realizes that she is more interested in finding a genuine emotional connection rather than just a physical one. Harry and Beth, meanwhile, struggle with jealousy and the sense that their commitments to each other are being threatened by the experiment. These are all issues that the movie tackles in a sensitive and nuanced manner.

Aside from its sexual themes, The Harrad Experiment also offers some interesting commentary on the nature of education and learning. Professor Tenhausen argues that students should not just learn facts, but also be encouraged to question and experiment with different ideas and lifestyles. This philosophy is what ultimately drives the experiment in the film, and it raises some interesting questions about how we learn and acquire knowledge.

However, some viewers may find that The Harrad Experiment can feel somewhat dated in its portrayal of gender roles and sexuality. The female characters, in particular, seem to be defined more by their relationships with men than by their own personal goals and desires. Sheila, for example, is initially drawn to Stanley because of his assertiveness and “masculinity,” while Beth is often shown as being emotionally fragile and in need of male protection. Similarly, while the movie's overall message is one of sexual liberation, it is portrayed almost exclusively through the lens of heterosexual relationships.

Despite these flaws, The Harrad Experiment is a thought-provoking and genuinely engaging film. It has gained something of a cult following over the years, and while it will certainly not be to everyone's taste, it remains an intriguing exploration of the complexities of love, sex, and social norms.

The Harrad Experiment is a 1973 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 37 minutes. It has received mostly poor reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 4.6.

The Harrad Experiment
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 37 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    4.6  (847)