The Wave

[a.k.a. Die Welle]
Dir: Dennis Gansel
Star: Jurgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt, Jennifer Ulrich

This was inspired originally by a genuine, if unorthodox experiment carried out in a Californian high-school during the sixties. As a teaching tool, Ron Jones created a "social movement", The Wave, for his class, complete with uniforms, strict discipline and so forth. It ended up becoming a monster, that grew out of control and ended up having to be stopped: the story became a fairly well-known TV drama in 1981, but this version transplants it to Germany. Of course, the past there gives the concept of a crypto-fascist movement additional wallop, and the trigger here is the belief of some students that the Third Reich could never happen these days. While some students blossom under the new regime, of course, it's not long before others are discriminating against non-members, intimidating people into joining, and engaging in other, even less desireable conduct. And that, people, is why we can't have nice things. Like trains that run on time...

Initially, there are some interesting playing with stereotypes here: the character heading for school, blaring on the stereo turns out to be the teacher. And the film does a nice job of putting over the appeal of The Wave, giving a sense of belonging to an increasingly-fractured generation (something just as true now, as it was for the original, albeit in different ways). However, it's a film which is better at climbing the mountain than coming down the other side. The further it goes on, the more stereotypical it becomes and by the end, it pretty much has to resort to a main argument against The Wave of. "'cos fascism, m'kay?" More critical viewers will be left feeling short-changed by this lack of intellectual effort, and cynical ones may choose to regard the climax as less a tragic culmination than a well-deserved thinning of the herd. If there's a message that is taken away from here, it's not perhaps quite the one which the film-maker intended to say.

[August 2013]

Say hello, wave goodbye
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