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Film / The Wave (2008)

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"Ihr seid also der Meinung, dass eine Diktatur heute in Deutschland nicht mehr möglich wäre?"
"So, you are of the opinion that a dictatorship would no longer be possible in Germany today?"

Die Welle (The Wave) is the 2008 German remake of The Wave (1981), the fictional version of Ron Jones' 'Third Wave' experiment, directed by Dennis Gansel and relocating the events to a school in present day Germany. The film takes the basic premise and reworks the characters to fit with the German setting and changes the ending to become more dramatic, but remains a disturbingly realistic take on how History Repeats.

The teacher Rainer Wenger is assigned to hold a class on autocracy, against his wish to talk about anarchy. Deciding to do the best about the situation he finds out that most of his students just took the class because Wenger is a popular teacher, not because of the subject. Most of the students think that Germany could never be an autocracy like the Third Reich again. Wenger decides to start an experiment with his class to prove the opposite and things start to go horribly wrong...


The films star Jürgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt and Jennifer Ulrich.

Die Welle provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Jerkass: In the 1981 version, Mr. Ross and his wife have a tense debate about the ethics of his experiment, but Mr. Ross never stoops so low as to insult his wife. Here, Mr. Wenger and his wife Anke also get into a similar argument, but Wenger attacks Anke's anxiety problems, which then leads to her leaving him.
  • Adaptation Expansion: With an extra hour of runtime over its predecessor, the 2008 version has more characters and adds more subplots demonstrating the effects of the Wave, such as the sequence in which the Wave members use graffiti to spread their symbol around town.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Karo's brother Leon is very rude due to the hands-off parenting style of their parents. He later joins the Wave and uses it's trappings to bully other children.
  • Blatant Lies: The computer geek that claims he is going to a LAN-party is seen taking part in the Wave-Party, also informing them about Karo's pamphlets allowing the members of the Wave to collect and destroy them before anyone else can read them.
    • Mona exaggerates how bad the Wave is in the pamphlet. Karo is uneasy about this while Mona justifies it because it will get the point across. In a way it becomes a meta-commentary about the films ending.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with a enthusiastic and happy Wenger driving to school dressed in black and ends with him being driven away by the police in a state of absolute shock and sorrow dressed in white.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Subverted. The anarchist gang lead by Faust are not violent until they are provoked by the Wave-members putting up their symbol all over town. It becomes Fridge Brilliance when you realise during their first encounter Faust calls the Wave members fascists. Germans would understandably be offended by such an insult.
  • Color Motif: The classroom is filled with whites and a few greens. This is so Karo will stick out when she does not put on the white shirt.
  • Cool Teacher: Wenger is this, his class being full despite the "boring" topic and usually on a first-name basis with his students.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Tim's mental breakdown and subsequent suicide. Particularly jarring because nothing like that happens in the original film and book.
  • Darker and Edgier: In both the original film and the book, the conflict is resolved when Mr. Ross reveals the true nature of the experiment to his students, and no violence takes place. In this remake, however, the revelation causes one of the students to snap because he fears he will be lonely and bullied as before the experiment and he pulls out a gun and threatens the other students with it and actually shoots one of them, then threatens the teacher before killing himself instead.
  • Death by Adaptation: Tim, counterpart of Robert in the original, commits suicide at the end.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The salute Bomber invents for the Wave (a hand motion that mimicks a wave) that every member including Wenger eagerly adopts is very reminiscent of the fascist salute.
  • Downer Ending: Tim shoots Bomber and then himself after the Wave is disbanded, Lisa and probably several other students get traumatized and Wenger is arrested by the police.
  • Foreign Remake: Towards the original film and book The Wave (1981). Set in the country whose history was the original's inspiration, no less.
  • Foreshadowing: At the very first day of the project week, Tim adapts to the new drill exceptionally well. Guess who goes nuts after the reveal...
  • Gang of Bullies: Sinan, Bomber and Kevin. Sinan & Bomber reform thanks to the Wave.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Wave is meant to teach the students about fascism and autocracy by example and the students starts to enjoy it. Even Wenger is enthralled because his students are more motivated than ever.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Wenger, an anti-fascist anarchist, starts the project to teach his students how easy it is to fall to fascism, but according to his wife, starts to enjoy being leader a bit too much.
  • Hope Spot: Near the end of the film, when Tim threatens everyone else with his gun during his mental breakdown, for a moment it seems as if Wenger manages to bring him back to his senses ... and then Tim shoots himself.
  • Hypocrite: Karo in subverted form; she only turns against The Wave when she chooses to not wear the uniform (white shirt) everyone in the Wave agreed on wearing, because of a comment from her mother, and thus starts see how the Wave treats non-members. It's likely she would not have turned against them if she had worn the uniform.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Subverted. Tim's behavior through the film, becoming a model member of the Wave and committing suicide when the movement is shut down, is caused by him being desperate to not be alone any more.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Marco has one of these after he hits Karo for opposing the Wave.
    • In the final moments of the film Wenger is sitting in the police car and is so tormented by his guilt over creating the Wave he can hardly hold back on his emotions.
  • Playing Hard to Get: After they had an argument, Karo tries to call Marco. Lisa is present and advises Marco to play hard to get and not answer. Cue Karo lying on her bed crying.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    • The most common complaint about the movie is that the ending is much more extreme than the real life event. Word of God says the ending was influenced by the Emsdetten school shooting in 2006, when the film was scripted, where a 18-year old bullying victim wounded 5 people and killed himself. In 2009, a year after the films release the Winnenden school shooting was perpetrated by another loner, this time a 17-year old boy with depression. His name? Tim.
    • To American audiences, it might seem odd that high school students casually address their teachers by their given name, whereas the teachers address each other as "Herr/Frau [surname]." This is actually quite common in German schools, and indeed in many professions, coworkers don't address each other by given names.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music:
    • The film opens with Rainer listening to "Rock'n'Roll Highschool", a song about not caring about history, not wanting to be taught to be a fool and only having fun.
    • When the two guys talk about how the youth of today is aimless, the song in the background is sung from the perspective of a bored youth who is aimless and dangerous.
    • When Bomber and Kevin skate and unintentionally get Karo's brother to join the Wave, the song playing at the skate ring is "Everything Is Under Control", a song about a movement getting control over people.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Rainer is not pretty and his wife is a Hot Teacher. But Rainer is so charming and charismatic it is easy to get why she likes him.

Alternative Title(s): Die Welle