Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Wave

Have you heard of that experiment they conducted in California back in the 1960s where... OK you can fill in the rest with what ever urban myth about a psychological experiment gone wrong that you care to imagine. Who wouldn't believe you? The 1960s have a reputation for being a wild time and are long enough ago to be beyond the reliable memory for most people. Anyway The Wave was inspired by such an experiment.

It is project week in a 21st century German High School, where students choose from a number of optional subjects. Rainer Wenger is a popular teacher, and usually does a project class on his pet subject of Anarchy, but this year at the last minute his boss decides that given that the aim of the political classes is to teach the superiority of democracy it would be better to swap Rainer and another teacher. Rainer will teach Authoritarianism and the less popular, boring old teacher will teach Anarchy. The kids are more interested in having a good time in Rainer's class than the subject ("The Nazis sucked. We get it"). After a quick rethink, Rainer comes up with a plan to make the subject less boring. He gradually changes the way he runs the class, telling the kids why he is making the changes (its for their own good in various ways), sometime involving them in choosing the more superficial details. He introduces each new idea with a simple slogan. He encourages all the kids to contribute according to their strengths and builds their self esteem. But also moving their thinking, from themselves to the group (i.e. the class). It helps that Rainer is popular and 'hip', so the kids are more willing to go along.

The project takes a life of its own, and start to interfere with the rest of the school and the home lives of the kids and finally Rainer himself. Realising what has happened he takes drastic action to defuse the situation but it has gone too far for one kid.

Having enjoyed Das Experiment I was expecting something as plausible and chilling, while some of it seemed very plausible (achieving conformity among teenagers through increasing self esteem) other aspects of The Wave, especially the shirt and salute defy belief in country which is so sensitive to the Nazi salute.

It is clear that the film has been carefully scripted so that different kids act out the full gamut of reactions to Nazism. So in the end this film becomes a sort of medieval morality play with a Shakespearian tragedy of an ending. I think if it hadn't tried to recreate some of the more obvious symbolism of Nazism, in Germany, of all places, it might have kept me on board. History repeats but rarely exactly the same way.

This film is well acted, well paced, with good sub-plots, and certainly made me think about what people find attractive about belonging to an empowering group but it lacked the chill of Das Experiment or Lord of the Flies.

Ian's rating 3/5

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