The Wave: DVD Review
Regardless of how compelling they are, you can only have so many films about the Nazis – and with a cinematic pedigree running from Max to Downfall by way of The Boys from Brazil, there’s really not much left to say about the Great Dictator and his little quirks. However, that doesn’t stop us being simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the fascist mindset, at least when it’s comfortably distanced from us by seventy years and a camp uniform. This is why The Wave is brilliant.
“Sieg Heil, Herr Wenger!”
Based on a true story from ’60s California but set in contemporary Germany, The Wave tells the story of Rainer Wenger (Vogel), a mild-mannered ex-squatter and radical turned social sciences teacher. When he is unexpectedly assigned ‘Autocracy’ instead of ‘Anarchy’ in his school’s project week, he decides to demonstrate the lure of conformity and authoritarianism by unifying his class under a single banner. The students elect him as leader, adopt a uniform and choose ‘The Wave’ as the name of their movement, and almost immediately sinister undertones become apparent in the seemingly innocent project. Wenger’s slogans (‘Strength Through Discipline’ sticks in the memory) and the adoption of a snappy group salute are the obvious harbingers of something nasty, but it’s the more subtle pointers which are truly unnerving… from the children who are enlisted to guard a skate park to the unwanted loner student (Lau) who becomes Wenger’s self-appointed bodyguard, it becomes obvious that The Wave is moving beyond anyone’s control.
The Wave is really, genuinely scary – perhaps the scariest film I’ve ever seen which makes no attempt to be a horror. The lead cast is utterly convincing, and none of the students are allowed to fade into the background; each character is believable and distinct, which makes their swift change from troublesome teenagers into blank-faced Wave disciples all the more unnerving.
Films about Nazism have their place, but we shouldn’t be allowed to believe that 1930s Germany was a special case – or worse, that such a dark period in our history could never be repeated. The sight of 21st century youths marching in step and roaring slogans at a rally is, I promise you, infinitely more disturbing than seeing a clip from The Triumph of the Will and thinking “well, at least it’ll never happen again”. The Wave reminds us that Hitler’s Germany was not populated with particularly stupid or short-sighted people, and that to assume we are above such foolishness is to misunderstand the temptation of hearing, obeying and belonging… whatever the cost.