A popular teacher who thinks himself an anarchist is forced to teach a class on autocracy to a bored bunch of middle-class students. He attempts to grab their attention by proposing a “fun” experiment: could you – a bunch of sophisticated young people – be seduced by the lure of authoritarianism?
The experiment begins. The results are horrifying.
I’ve written before about the astonishing ability of big Hollywood movies to disappoint.
Equally astonishing is the ability of many low-budget non-Hollywood movies to be excellent.
But most people will never see The Wave, because:
(i) it’s in German, with sub-titles. If you’re not used to watching movies with sub-titles, this may put you off (sample review on Amazon: “Unfortunately this movie is in German with English subtitles which I don’t like. I returned the movie versus watching it”);
(ii) no marketing campaign exists;
(iii) it has no stars non-Germans are likely to have heard of, unless you are a big Jorgen Vogel fan;
(iv) it isn’t on Apple TV (please tell me I’m wrong – but I’ve never found anything even vaguely obscure on Apple TV);
(v) in fact, you’ve probably never even heard of it.
The fact that relatively few people will see the movie is sad because the reasons to watch it are numerous:
(i) the story (unlike eg Hail Caesar) is terrific. Believable characters you care about; plenty of pace; and a satisfying and memorable ending;
(ii) it deals with important issues. Why do people join cults and extremist political parties? The Wave gives a convincing explanation. I’m never persuaded by people who say (in any country) that “it could never happen here”. It is human nature to enjoy peer approval, to want to belong, to enjoy activities that make you feel strong and successful. In The Wave, even many external people approve of the positive changes they see in the students;
(iii) it’s intriguing. The Wave is supposedly based on The Third Wave, an experiment by a Californian school teacher in 1967. This sounds plausible (although Wikipedia says that the teacher wrote nothing about it until 1976, which makes me wonder how accurate his account was). But The Wave also reminded me of a story called The Snowball Effect published in Galaxy Science Fiction in September 1952 by Katherine MacLean. A professor is challenged to prove the value of sociology. He visits a small town and revises the rules of a local sewing circle with a charismatic woman leader to provide incentives to “more growth drive than the Roman Empire”. Worth a read;
(iv) a fine sound-track. When the members of The Wave hold a beach party and the music is turned up loud, you’ll want to be invited;
(vi) when The Wave finishes you won’t have that cheated, “so what?” sensation you get after watching the latest James Bond movie. You’ll feel a glow of pride that you’ve found and enjoyed something original, high quality and possibly important.
For: moving, entertaining, powerful, political and socially relevant movie.
Against: not a total masterpiece. Some of the characters are a bit two-dimensional. So only 9/10. But a compelling watch.