A fictional twist on psychological experiments illustrating Germans' compliance during the Nazi regime, 'The Wave' explores one teacher's experience teaching about autocracy in a current-day German high school.
Rat Pack Film Production GMBH/Constantin Film Production/Newscom
3.5 / 5 stars
Some of the more controversial experiments in modern psychology have dealt with how far test subjects will go when told to do something. A few years before the infamous 1971 Stanford prison experiment, in which student “officers” abused their peer “prisoners,” an exercise known as “The Third Wave” took place at a California high school. To illustrate the Germans’ complicity during the Nazi regime, a teacher motivated his students into creating a unified, anti-Democracy front that looked frighteningly familiar. Of course, it caught on like wildfire, later inspiring a TV movie, an award-winning novelization, and now filmmaker Dennis Gansel’s fictional take with a twist: The Wave takes place in a current-day high school in Germany, the original scene of the crime, so to speak. It’s an intriguing slant on the story, an occasionally damning portrayal of pointless power.
It’s taken a while for Gansel’s film to gain visibility here in the States; The Wave originally screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, followed by showings in about umpteen countries throughout ’08 and ’09 (It premieres on Sundance Selects video-on-demand June 8). But the delay hasn’t diminished the film as the tantalizing curiosity that it is. The script, by Gansel and Peter Thorwarth (writer-director of 1999′s Bang Boom Bang), hinges on its punk-rock style teacher, Rainer Wenger (skinhead-ish leading man Jurgen Vogel). He wears Ramones t-shirts to school, lets the kids call him by his first name, and is pumped up to teach a one-week track on anarchy. (Hey, he has to wear his Clash t-shirt somewhere, right?)