Monday, 24 March 2014

Film #21: The Wave (15)

Released: 2008
Directed by: Dennis Gansel 
Original title: Die Welle (The Wave) 

Having been really impressed when I watched this film in the cinema a few years ago, I decided it was time to revisit it. I’m happy to say that it was just as good the second time round. 

Teacher Rainer Wenger (Jürgen Vogel, a familiar face in German entertainment) is extremely popular among his pupils for his laid-back and familiar teaching style. When the school’s ‘project week’ comes around, he is disappointed to find that, rather than his preferred subject of anarchy, he has been given a week to teach his students about autocracy. Then he hits upon an inspired idea – why not show them how a dictatorship develops by getting them to act it out? 

After initially mocking and rejecting the concept, his students really start to get into their role. ‘The Wave’, the movement they create, seems harmless at first and actually has a positive effect on some of the students, boosting their confidence. However, things inevitably escalate into bullying, social exclusion and threats for those who dare to take a stand. Rainer really enjoys the adoration of his students, realising far too late that things have got out of hand. Some of the participants find their personalities changing and one in particular begins to identify far too closely with the group’s ‘ideology’, ultimately leading to tragedy. 

This isn’t the first and won’t be the last exploration of whether a dictatorship could again emerge in Germany, and the students themselves question how long they will have to atone for the deeds of their predecessors. However, I found the school setting effective – particularly in the wake of the many tragic school shootings that have taken place over the last few years. And although it is perhaps a little unrealistic that things could escalate so much in as little as a week, the idea the film depicts is more plausible than most of us would care to admit. A powerful drama well-acted by all involved.

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