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The Wave (Die Welle)

Film Five Stars
The Wave, or Die Welle, is a film that is based on the novel The Wave by Morton Rhue, aka Todd Strasser, which itself is a fictionalised account of the events that took place in a Californian high school in April 1967.

A teacher there, Ron Jones, conducted an experiment with his students. They had brought up the question of how people accepted the Nazi's rise to power and couldn't understand how people had let them. So Jones decided to recreate a dictatorship within his classroom and in less than a week the students had adopted some incredible traits and the project was threatening to spiral out of control.

Plot.pngDuring the school's project week teacher Rainer Wenger, played by Jürgen Vogel, is given the subject of Autocracy to teach to a class, unfortunately he wanted to teach Anarchy, the reason for which you'll can understand when you see him. However he's forced to stick with Autocracy and when the class start talking about their ideas and their understanding of the word they bring up the Nazi's and their own past. There's a divide about Nazism and how that could never happen, and the idea is set in the teacher's mind.

The week begins simply enough, regime, order, unity, and so on. However as the days progress the students become more and more engulfed in the movement, their ideas gaining momentum and their actions affecting other students, until some begin to take it too far.

TheFilm.pngThis is a powerful film with a strong message, don't get me wrong, it's not the standard morality film which plays out a story and delivers a strong message at the end of it, there is no preaching here, everything is in the story. That's one of the most powerful aspects of the film, how the story plays out when it could have so easily built to a big debate and discussion on Nazism, abuse of power, etc, etc. and turned into a huge morality tale.

Instead it concentrates on the characters and the story, ensuring that the audience are the ones who make their minds up by affecting them through the story. Oh, and it does it very, very effectively.

This is a superb film that keeps the tension rising throughout and never properly delivers. Through the second half the film has you stuck between expecting something terrible to happen and not wanting it to, and that feeling keeps up.

I found that I was getting more and more uneasy as the film progressed and it never let me off the hook until the very end when it let me drop, and then it didn't even try to catch me. I was surprised by just how well it hooked me in and took me along for the ride and kept me on edge.

Honestly I found it hard to find any flaw in the film.

That said there were a few moments which I thought faltered a little, but it soon picked back up the pace. One such moment was when the students activities were on the rise. On a few occasions they seemed a little quick to take up new tasks and ideals, but genuinely I felt caught up in these moments too, and the enthusiasm and eagerness of the students actually captured me and pulled me up along with them. In a way I was feeling the effects of this experiment too.

What I found was that I understood reasons for everything that was happening because it came through in the reactions and discussions of the students. The first few examples of this are the easiest ones, the explanations of why everyone should stand up when wanting to talk, of why they should march loudly in place at the start of the class, and so on. The students themselves question these and in the discussions that follow you can see the reasoning and start to see why you might be caught up in it yourself.

Another moment where I thought the film stumbled a little was when the students have created a logo for their group and they decide to plaster it all over town. Suddenly they are racing around spray painting windows, buildings and even police cars, slapping stickers on just about everything. While I'm sure that this could happen the pace felt a little rushed at this point, the frantic music, the involvement of everyone, the tagging just about everything. It did seem like a bit of a leap for them.

However again you are quickly past that moment and caught up with the story again, right there with the students. The scene actually works well in pulling us past the portion of the film where the group is created and into the day to day operation. Perhaps this really is how it would happen.

The script is written really well and does a great job of pulling you into the characters and their beliefs. It has also managed to update the story a little and make you feel as though these are real students by pulling in modern commentary such as the use of MySpace and mobiles, as well as the modern comparisons and comments about Facism, Nazism and Sophie Scholl.

These help to ground the film in our reality as well as providing for amusing and thought provoking moments. It's comments like these that manage to signal the audience into thinking about the repercussions and the morality of the tale without being to heavy handed about the morality.

The changes in the students are interesting at first, sometimes amusing, for instance the comparisons in the classroom with a dictatorship or Nazism, but then it begins to feel slightly wrong and unnerving, indeed you begin to feel rather tentative about events and perhaps even a little scared, a bit like it might in real life as the tide picked you up. This feeling builds and builds and really begins to unnerve, particularly in the second half of the film.

Performances are very good, there's not a feeling of anyone being a weak link, and those playing the students are all convincing. There are several students who all have different emotional journeys through the group. There's the sportsman who struggles to be a team player, the girl who's idolised by all and struggles with no longer standing out, the loner who loves the acceptance, the girl who's not noticed by anyone until she's finally seen by the man who's always ignored her, and so on.

Following these characters journeys alongside the development of the group reveals the most about why people would be caught up in such events, and this is conveyed superbly through the script and the performances.

Some of the changes in the characters and their reactions to the effect of the group are rather unnerving to see, and one of the strongest moments in the film next to the actual closing scene itself is around one of the biggest character changes, the one of the sportsman.

There's a great moment later on when the anger and frustration he's been carrying bursts to the surface and he slaps a woman. That moment is rather shocking and slaps both the character and the audience awake, suddenly realising that things have gone too far. It's a great feeling to watch that moment and get the reaction from it.

The closing scenes are very powerful and where the tension is at it's utmost, it's also where the story is at its most shocking. At this point I was extremely uncomfortable and very much on edge.

Its also where the performances are at their best and the reactions to the events are very believable and very well portrayed on screen, there's no morality judgement here, just reactions from those involved and from the teacher himself. You, the audience, is left to make the final judgement.

Perhaps what was most interesting and surprising about the ending is that when the students are heard in their various ways, be it through speech or the audience being shown who they are now, you really do wonder if some of the things they say and have learned are actually right.

Looking back you see the discipline, the teamwork, the self respect, and so on, and these are all good aspects of what they have become, and yet the negatives perhaps present too high a cost.

Overall.pngThe Wave is a stunning film that really does manage to convey the power of a cult or Autocracy and how someone could be caught up in it. The writing is excellent and shows the characters and their changes, and what's more is they are easily identifiable with, allowing the audience to connect with them and making their changes all the more troubling.

The most impressive thing about this film though is the tension it carries and the way it builds and builds until the shocking ending. This has to be the tensest and most uncomfortable I've felt through a film in a very long time, and that's a good thing.

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UK IMDB Film Details
Filmstalker's Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008 page



Read the book back in high school and it was very good and obviously the movie sounds good so definately be seeing this one, but then again I see everything that comes out at the movies anyway!

Yes you do see everything!!

I'm actually getting the book on my next bundled book purchase. You'll love the film.

Excellent review!

I first heard about this movie from a friend who also recommended it, and once I learned that the director is Dennis Gansel, then I seriously want to watch it. Plus it also stars one of Germany's top young talent- Max Riemelt, who appeared in an earlier movie by Gansel called Napola. This one is modern while Napola is based on history.

Thanks for the review, It certainly gave me more insights into the film.

No problem Jed, please come back and tell us what you thought of it.

Vergleich zwischen dem Film Die Welle und dem Nationalsozialismus

[Link removed. It looked like an interesting document but it was filled with adverts concealing paragraphs which you had to pay to unveil - Richard]


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