Film: The Wave

A high school classroom becomes the site of a sociopolitical experiment in The Wave (2008), a fairly well executed, if obvious, German drama about the perils of groupthink and conformity. Jürgen Vogel stars as Rainer Wenger, a political sciences and P.E. teacher who is one of the younger, “cooler” members of the faculty. Rainer is disappointed when he’s assigned the subject of autocracy during the school’s “Project Week” (he was really hoping for anarchy). But when his disaffected students blithely reject the notion that a fascist system could ever rise again in Germany, he decides to teach them a lesson by converting his lecture hall into a strictly regimented dictatorship. What begins as an enthusiastic, team-building thought experiment quickly escalates into a dangerous social movement that transforms the campus.

An attractively produced and well paced cautionary tale, The Wave suffers mainly from being predictable: once the premise is established, it goes in mostly expected directions. It’s a high-concept message film, and the message is effectively delivered, but unfortunately it uses a sledgehammer when a thumbtack would have done the trick. This is one of those films that begs for a precise, elegant finale, but it opts instead for the inevitable, unsurprising one. Earnest, well performed, and thought-provoking, but ultimately a little unsatisfying.

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