Die Welle (The Wave) is a 2008 German movie directed by Dennis Gansel. It takes inspiration from the book with the same title written by Tod Strasser (1981), which in turn is based on the short story Take as Directed (1976, later released in 1981 with the title The Third Wave) by Ron Jones, who recounts his 1967 experiment made to explore the reasons behind the birth of Nazi-fascism in Germany in the 30s.
Die welle shows us a young and leftist professor who listens to punk music, Rainer Wenger (Jürgen Vogel), who must supervise a one week project on autocracy, when he would have rather preferred to work on anarchy. Given his popularity, a large number of students sign up to participate and after the initial discussion about the meaning of autocracy it turns out that none of the students believes that it is now impossible for an ideology such as Nazism to prosper again in present-day Germany. The professor thinks about it a bit and in order to demonstrate the opposite, he starts organizing the students in a movement with its own uniform, salute, symbol… so to quickly create a strong group identity. This leads to both harmless consequences (such as stickers with the Wave‘s symbol all over the city) and dangerous ones (like some episodes of violence). Everything culminates in a perhaps over-the-top ending that I don’t want to spoil here.
Apart from the ending over which I have some reservations (in fact I prefer the alternative one contained in the Bluray, which I find less exasperated than the one of the final version of the film), the movie works well. The director tells us about the school experiment and manages to make us understand how a group with a strong identity can be created using a simple ideology (and even without any), and above all how easy is it to shape the minds of young people, especially those with issues (personal, familiar, economic…). Dennis Gansel makes everything very dynamic with his documentary style both thanks to the use of the camera which is always very close to the actors (all really credible), and thanks to the wise use of the eclectic soundtrack (including songs spanning over genres like techno, rap, punk, and rock).
Apparently, in Germany, Die welle is studied in schools, demonstrating how much the film is able to explore effectively the themes that it tackles. I recommend anyone to watch it, I found it very current, especially nowadays when the most extreme ideologies are becoming more and more our daily bread. Ciao!
PS: the director’s videodiary contained in the Bluray edition of the movie is very interesting and documents the various phases of the film, from script-writing to sound editing, and including the shooting and the editing.