The Wave (Die Welle) -Germany

Autocracy: government in which one person has uncontrolled or unlimited authority over others. How do autocracies come to be? Are they possible in a modern, democratic society? In April of 1967, Ron Jones held a semi-experiment in his history class. He set out to prove that a dictatorship – similar to the Third Reich – could be possible in modern society. This is all well and good in America, where such a government has never existed, but what about in Germany? The Wave takes a look at the potential for dictatorship in a chilling, eye-opening way.


Rainer Wenger (Jurgen Vogel) is assigned “Autocracy” as his subject to teach for project week. Initially, he begins the class with the same apathy as his students. Once posed with the thought that it is impossible for an autocracy in modern Germany, Wenger decides to try something different and show his students how easily a dictatorship can be created. Unfortunately for Wenger, his students begin to enjoy the experiment a little too much, which leads to escalating, and dire, consequences.

The Wave is a frightening film not for scary sequences, but for the implications of the proceedings. Wenger’s students buy into the Wave (the name for their class/group) wholeheartedly and begin taking on character traits of previous autocracies, which brings an almost inexplicable tension to the film because of the plausibility of the situation. You begin to wonder how defiant a class would be in real life until you realize the film is based on an experiment. The mob mentality is infectious in this school and its community. The children, especially Tim (Frederick Lau), begin to gain a new sense of self-worth from their exclusive club, while others, such as Karo (Jennifer Ulrich), are shunned as outsiders for their reluctance to join.

The resemblance to the Third Reich is not lost on the filmmakers and is referred to multiple times. The Wave serves as a decent guide to how the modern generation of German teenagers feels about WWII and their disgust with its aftermath, which they still feel today. As one student spits out, how long must they feel guilty for something they had no part of? It’s a tough question to answer, and one, luckily, that is only a side-thought from the film.

The best scenes of the film actually take place in the classroom as we get to see Wenger’s methods and begin to unravel the purpose to his controversial style. Unfortunately, a good portion of the film is spent on the kids outside class and their teen drama. We see how each student is affected in different ways and how relationships amongst them are changed. While this is crucial to understanding the effects the Wave has on them, it gets old and you simply want to go back to the classroom (odd, I know).

Another interesting aspect is how the experiment affects the adults, particularly Wenger. He becomes so ecstatic that his students are embracing his class that his own personality and ego become inflated. He takes on a new persona that ruins his relationship with his wife and leads to him losing control of the situation.

The whole film leaves you tense and unnerved. You are in awe of how deeply these kids feel about a fictional cause. By the end you begin to wonder, who is at fault. The easy answer is Wenger because he is the adult, but what makes teenagers so susceptible to such despicable behavior? Why do they fail to notice where their actions lead? This is just a taste of the social consequences of The Wave.

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