It must be difficult being German sometimes; moving on from the atrocities that dominated much of your country’s history in the last century whilst being respectful enough never to forget the lessons that were learnt. How many generations must offer remuneration before it feels like an inherited debt? How many populations must profess guilt before resenting the act? How many children must apologise for the sins of the fatherland before living memory passes on?
It’s an interesting subject, and one that cinematically Germany has only recently begun to address. The Edukators, Goodbye Lenin, The Lives of Others and Downfall are just four of the films that look at the behaviour and fallout of Germany’s turbulent political actions in the 20th Century, told from the perspective of a nation coming to terms with its fascistic heritage.
The Wave is another of those films and looks at how, only three generations later, the nations youth are already desensitised to the atrocities of the second world war and the political misdirections of the post war years. ‘The Nazis sucked’ states one bling-clad student before he is swiftly indoctrinated by a class autocracy project gone wrong – ‘we get it’.
The Teacher is one of those hip teachers that only exist in movies; a Ramones loving punk, a leather-sporting smoker whose anarchic spirit never left him – despite a career of enthusing bored teenagers with politics. Teaching an autocracy project and shocked at the disinterest of the students, he creates a class gang called ‘The Wave’ and begins to demonstrate how easily tribal allegiances can be formed and how quickly fascistic characteristics can form.
He’s a fantastic teacher, because within two days he already has his autonomous gang of Droogs wearing identical uniforms, making MySpace pages with gang logos and terrorizing the town with a campaign of graffiti and aggressive hood wearing. Despite several prior scenes where the students quite aptly discussed the societal requirements of a rise to the right – financial upheaval, low unemployment, influx of immigrants etc – they abandon all intellectual interpretation of what is happening and instead embrace their new found mass because, like, it means they don’t get picked on at school, n’stuff
Before you can say “Disturbing Behaviour was just a rip off of The Stepford Wives” the Wave starts swelling in ranks, starts buying guns off the internet, starts picking fights with hilariously-dressed anarchists and starts organising support for the water polo team. By the third day the whole Breakfast Club has been swallowed – the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess and the criminal - all revelling in the positive effects of mass uniformity.
Had the film tried to be more of a parable, staying within the confines of the school, it could have been much more interesting. Had it used the natural hierarchy of high school as a metaphor for society, or been more of a satire, it could have worked better.
As it stands it plays more like a horror film, where fascism lurks in the shadows, ready to pounce on any slightly disenfranchised teenager who feels the warmth of acceptance. It feels like the inverse of Red Dawn, where uniformity parachutes into the classrooms of a resting nation.
At the end, the teacher reveals that it was just a lesson, an example of how easily people can be lead towards fascism. Of course by now it’s now too late, the Wave are an autonomous mass of upheaval, calling for a conquering Germany and stringing up those who oppose them. A class project lasting six days has united a school and turned mallrats into an army… the audience gasp… the lesson has backfired… fascism has occurred again… the horror… the horror…
It’s a profoundly silly film – well-meaning and with some good ideas but ruined by a ridiculous timeframe and an over-simplified idea. What was initially an interesting debate soon turned into a version of the Blob, where the children fight a quite literal political enemy and not just a metaphoric political enemy that looks like a giant blob from outer space.
There’s still room out there for a really good movie about how the new generation of German youth view their country’s history, but this isn’t it. This is a quite entertaining, but accidentally funny horror film with good intentions, but very little self-awareness.