It is easy to establish a dictatorship when the required ingredients are pre-eminent in society. That is the premise of ‘The Wave,’ Dennis Gansel’s film based on a real-life incident which took place in a California high school during 1967, producing disturbing results in the students who took part. ‘The Wave’ relocates the action to Germany and the classroom of Herr Wenger (Jurgen Vogel) who utilizes unconventional methods in teaching a class on ‘autocracy,’ setting up a mini-dictatorship with himself at the head of the movement.
There’s trepidation at first, as pupils seem reluctant to adopt behaviour associated with Nazis. However, after imposing a seating pattern and uniform on the students, a group spirit begins to form, paving over previous social divisions.
It is with the introduction of the moniker ‘The Wave’ and a members-only hand signal that sinister shades of Nazism begin to appear. When the students start to define themselves in relation to outsiders, events begin to take a turn for the worse and violence ensues.
This film follows a recent trend in German cinema towards films that seek to make sense of the country’s traumatic political history. A new generation of filmmakers are finally starting to feel comfortable addressing the issues of the past.
Transposed to modern-day Germany, the work resonates with reminders that, historically, darker, more incomprehensible things have happened, and on a significantly grander scale. However the film fails to make a convincing argument that German high-school students would be unable to detect a correlation between their actions and those of the Third Reich.
This is ignorant at best. At worst, it is unfairly condemning. Moreover, the audience is asked to believe that the students would give unquestioning loyalty and obedience to such an experiment, something one finds hard to believe even with a ‘cool’ teacher like Herr Wenger at its helm.
‘The Wave’ lacks the inescapable claustrophobia of ‘Das Experiment’ and ultimately struggles to convince the audience of the allure that unquestioning loyalty and obedience are supposed to possess.
The fast-paced editing of the film contributes to its lack of credibility and lends it an air of rushed contrivence. However, along with the cliched teen-movie characters like the awkward, disturbed and worryingly enthusiastic Tim (Frederick Lau), it adds light relief to an otherwise sombre film.
The feature’s shock ending strays from the authentic events by taking the experiment to its logical conclusion, and raises questions pertaining to the effect that a modern day Third Reich would have in today’s society today, showing how fascism can germinate in even the most benign of environments.