When us Brits try a social experiment it usually ends in a huge cultural mess where members of the public scream at each other on television in the vain hope of making it onto the cover of ‘Heat’ magazine. When the Germans experiment socially, it usually results in power struggles, a little bit of mentalness and a hefty dollop of violence.
I am, of course, basing this observation purely on what the film world tells me (if I don’t base every thought or opinion on what a fictional character does or says the doctors tell me I may very well die). So judging solely by the excellent ‘Das Experiment’ and now with ‘Die Welle’, Germans should not be allowed to try any social tests. Ever.
‘The Wave’ takes place in a German high school, where during project week, a teacher, pissed off at not being able to teach Anarchy, decides to get the fullest out of teaching Autocracy (the state ruled by one). He sets up the aformentioned ‘social experiment’ to see just how easily people will fall into fascism. Pretty bloody easily it appears.
The original experiment took place in California with very similar results but the transplanting of the story to Germany couldn’t have worked better. That after years of being told how bad they were circa 1939 these kids believe they could never again fall for that easy totalitarian state. It’s the perfect set-up for what follows.
Like ‘Elephant’ before it, ‘The Wave’ is a high school movie where you know something bad is brewing for the final act. Unlike ‘Elephant’, ‘The Wave’ is good. From the moment a few of the class start to enjoy the lessons a bit too much, your palms will be unable to retain any dryness. This is mainly down to the situation and the impending doom, but all this would be lost without believable characters.
Thankfully ‘The Wave’ has them, in, well, waves. From the ‘cool teacher’ who wears ‘Ramones’ and ‘Clash’ T-Shirts (but actually pulls them off), to the Sophie Scholl-esque girl (who perversely inspires most of the violence) and her sporty boyfriend, to the angry rich kid and the unhinged loner each keeps away from becoming a stereotype whilst still filling a much needed role.
That ‘The Wave’ brings so many of these people together in unison is one of the scariest things you take away. Many of the kids just want to belong, they don’t care to what.
The third act contains some character reversals that seem out of place but these soon make sense in the tense environment and help to keep you guessing at the outcome. But without giving too much away, it’s not exactly lesson learnt.
So Germans. Leave the social experiments to the Dutch or someone a little more laid-back. Actually, hang on a second, it was the Dutch that invented Big Brother. Full on fascism or gobby drunk twats? Tricky one that.
‘The Wave’ is at selected cinemas with names derived from ancient Greece on Tuesday only and is available on DVD now.