The Wave

The Wave


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Because this was made in Germany, it has an historical factor that will fuel the box office. In the same way that it is possible to learn how to build a bomb on the internet, The Wave gives a week’s tutorial on how to organise a fascist movement.

Rainer Wenger (Jurgen Vogel) is an unlikely high school teacher with his skinhead, leather jacket and jeans. He wants to take the anarchy class, because he has personal experience on the subject, but an older, more cerebral master has signed up for it and so Rainer is stuck with autocracy instead. Rather than bore his students with analysis and explanation, accompanied by essays and a library of reading, he decides to try an experiment. In order to demonstrate the meaning of the word in language that these kids will understand, he must make them live it. And so The Wave, the name given to their new movement, is systematically created in the classroom from where it spreads with dangerous speed.

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The film suffers from a need to follow the dots – first the uniform, then the name, then the logo, then the salute – as if there is only one way to go, and it’s not up. There are sub plots, such as rivalries in the water polo team and the girlfriend of one of the principal characters attempting to undermine the relentless advance of power through group solidarity.

Writer/director Dennis Gansel is not making Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, with political overtones. Even when convinced by the benefits of belonging to a movement, these kids are not brain washed numpties. A breath away from world domination (in their minds), even as Pandora’s Box is opened a crack and the grinning face of Herr Himmler glimpsed in a distorted mirror, they remain rational beings, capable of personal choice. Their eyes are not dead, only diverted.

Rainer’s instructions are obeyed to the letter, not because he is a charismatic leader, lifting the poor and listless from their reverie of despair, but because it’s more fun working together in unison than getting laid when too drunk to remember.

The message is clear and the message is strong: How To Build A Fascist Movement works. And it doesn’t have to be Germany. It could be anywhere. If the filmmakers had taken it all the way, they might have ended at Waco. As it is, they stay within the perimeters of high school and, by doing so, are twice as effective.

The finale has a melodramatic twist, which is not entirely convincing. Or, to put it another way, it’s predictable and therefore unlikely. But then the copycat killings after Columbine were predictable and (sadly) not in the least unlikely.

So what’s in a word?

Autocracy: “a system of government by one person with absolute power.”

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2008
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A high school teacher demonstrates with his class the true meaning of autocracy.
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Read more The Wave reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2

Director: Dennis Gansel

Writer: Dennis Gansel, Peter Thorwarth, based on the novel by Todd Strasser

Starring: Juergen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt, Jennifer Ulrich, Christiane Paul, Elyas M'Barek, Christina do Rego, Jacob Matschenz, Amelie Kiefer

Year: 2008

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: Germany

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Das Experiment