The Wave is a German film, telling the story of teacher Rainer Wenger’s (Jürgen Vogel) experiment to demonstrate to his class the pitfalls and dangers of a dictatorship, be recreating one in the class. The experiment quickly escalates and takes on a power seemingly of its own, and threatens to tear the school and the students’ lives apart.
Wenger begins the class by asking the question “Could there really never be another dictatorship in Germany?” Naturally, the class react by saying no, citing how things in Germany are very different now, how Germans are all too well aware, almost hyper-aware, of the beginnings of these things, and how they had a historical responsibility to ensure it never happened again.
He then proceeds to show them how simple it is, how little is required to being the process of creating a dictatorship. First he begins by defining the rules of discussion, defining the way in which questions must be asked and he addressed. He makes the students do physical exercises, so that their blood is pumping and endorphins are released in the brain, and uses the power of mass rhythm to unite them, making them march on the spot. It is fascinating to watch Wenger begin the experiment.
But while Wenger starts the experiment, it quickly grows beyond his control. It is superb to see how quickly all the students get sucked into The Wave, each trying to do their own bit to further the cause. They are a unit, and stronger as such, pushing aside other social groups, especially the anarchists. Some of the students, especially Tim (Frederick Lau), who have never felt this sense of belonging or purpose before, work even harder to both impress Wenger and promote and strengthen the group. There are some very poignant moments demonstrating Tim’s eagerness to fill the emptiness in his life with The Wave. The Wave uniform is a white shirt and jeans. Some of the students go to the effort of buying a white shirt. Tim burns all his clothes except the white shirt and jeans.
The ensemble cast here do an excellent job, with all of the students feeling very believable in their roles. Jennifer Ulrich, aside from being astoundingly beautiful, does well as Karo, while Max Riemelt feels very natural as her boyfriend Marco. The real stand-out performance of course, comes from Jürgen Vogel, in what is the best “inspirational teacher” role I have ever seen. (Michelle Pfeiffer eat your heart out.) The script is strong, the dialogue feels particularly natural (as far as I can tell – my German is only so-so, and it’s hard to tell from subtitles). There are some superb scenes, and one particularly tense and nerve-wracking scene late at night in the school sticks in the memory. The tension that builds is fantastic, culminating in a fantastic climactic scene, where Wenger attempts to disband The Wave. The camera movement is superb, following Wenger’s head as he steps from behind a curtain onto the stage, and a sea of bodies in white shirts rise in respect. It truly is a chilling moment.
One of the most interesting things for me was to see these German teenagers discussing the obviously sensitive subject of the Third Reich and the Nazis. They are obviously tired of hearing the same old stories of how the Nazis were evil and so on, but quite clearly feel no affiliation or relationship to them. They may have been their recent biological ancestors, but ideologically, there is no relationship whatsoever. I don’t know how true to life a representation this is of the opinions of German teens, but it is still extremely interesting to watch.
The Wave is a fantastic film, with a fascinating concept at its core, superbly executed. This is without doubt one of the best films I have seen this year, and should make it onto everyone’s watch list. A.