Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Wave (2008)

If it were not for the final five minutes of this film, I would probably have given it a whole-hearted recommendation.  But I feel that the last scene pushes the drama button just a bit too hard and thus undermines the very theme it is trying to convey.

The Third Wave Experiment was conducted by an American history teacher in 1969, to explain to his students how the German people could accept the actions of the Nazi Party during and after its rise to power.  He did this by creating a social movement as a demonstration of the appeal of fascism.  That experiment rapidly escalated out of his control, and after five days he brought it to an end.

As you've probably already surmised, this German film is inspired by that experiment, though it transfers the action to modern-day Germany.  Popular teacher Rainer Wenger finds himself tasked with taking a week-long "project" class with the subject of autocracy.  He's initially less than enthused by the prospect, but becomes inspired when he hears his students dismiss the possibility of fascism ever rising again within Germany.

Rainer's plan is to show the class how essentially positive things; fostering a sense of cooperation and community; can be subverted to autocratic ends.  He tightens up discipline within the class, encourages students to share their work in order to get better grades, and gradually encourages them to demonstrate their growing sense of unity by adopting a standard method of dress: a white shirt and jeans.

Of course, just as in the real life experiment, things grow out of his control.  In particular, by creating an "us", especially an "us" that can be visually identified, he also creates a "them" of everyone who is not in the movement's "uniform".  Will he or his students recognise how dangerous their experiment has become before someone really gets hurt?

Well, that's kind of the point of the movie, really, and my first paragraph might give you some inclination of the answer.

I think this film is at its strongest in its presentation of the allure of "The Wave".  You can understand and sympathise with both Rainer and his students as they get drawn into the experience in a way they never expected.  The script is weaker in presenting a strong character to speak against the Wave, relying on the negative outcomes of the experiment to argue for it.  I can understand that decision, but I do think they go a little too far in that direction at the end of the film, as mentioned in my first paragraph.

Overall though, I am very glad I watched the film.  I've already purchased Lesson Plan, a 2010 documentary on the actual Third Wave experiment, to learn more about the real life event.

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