Jürgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt, Jennifer Ulrich, Christiane Paul / Fiction / German
Just how close is totalitarianism? A classroom experiment makes a terrifying test case…
?There’s been a good deal of conjecture lately, thanks to a particularly hellish news story from Austria, about just how a totalitarian past affects a national psyche. A film like The Wave – in which an idealistic teacher takes his students a little too far into a classroom role play on the theme of autocracy – inevitably has particular resonance when it comes out of Germany. The novel by Todd Strasser (written under the pen name Morton Rhue) on which the film is based is a core study text in German schools, and etched into the film is the anxious need to keep new generations involved in, and frightened by, the detail of their nation’s past. Ironically, however, the real-life experiment upon which the novel’s content was based took place in California. In April 1967, teacher Ron Jones decided to address his students’ questions over civilian indifference to Nazi atrocities with a practical demonstration of the effects of mass hysteria. According to Jones himself (and accounts from anyone else who was present are hard to source), he introduced his class to discipline, strict control and shared ideals, and they responded with wild-eyed willingness, until he had to dissolve the project for fear it was going too far. German star Jürgen Vogel plays the teacher here, and his self-conscious maverick schtick is nicely delineated: with his punk t-shirts and his matey manner, he’s too keen for the students’ affection, and so impressed by his own hipster daring that he doesn’t recognise the dangers of the game he’s playing. If the trajectory of the experiment is somewhat abrupt, from playful outset to very bitter end, the execution of this film is arresting: visually slick and driven by a restless energy, it makes its point fast and hard, and joins The Edukators and Goodbye Lenin as a fine addition to the recent German sub-genre of striking and engaging youth-driven political allegories.
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