Way back when I was in secondary school, once every year our religious educations teacher would put us through a weak experiment to highlight discrimination. Anyone with brown eyes was able to go on business as usual, whilst people with blue eyes were treated with antagonism from everyone else. Great in theory, but the effort put in by each of these endeavours was lost on school kids. Still, I’m certain that the school was very happy with this little titbit of fun. The Wave reminds me of those days somewhat, where a teacher sparks life into his teaching of national socialism and autocracy. The stark lessons he and his students learn, of manipulation and absolutism are engaging and interesting, all helmed by director Dennis Gansel.
Some of these lessons Gansel wishes to showcase are a tad on the nose. Discipline and order are engaged with in these introductory moments, but The Wave only works because its stereotypes and one-note characters are whipped up into feverish discipline almost immediately. Where Gansel faulters though is when he attempts to give these characters differing lifestyles. Portraying their backgrounds in the simplest and most efficient way possible loses a lot of the nicer details or pockets of interest that can fall out of natural storytelling. Instead, he offers a strict and regiment style, never allowing for anything in the everyday to feel unique or engaging.
This uncompromising motion does have some benefits. The Wave is fairly predictable, but there is comfort in some of the more foreseeable moments. A traditional three-act structure is frustrating more than anything, and paired with Gansel’s rather bland style of direction, nothing fruitful is on offer. Jürgen Vogel offers a superb leading performance, a catalyst for these supporting characters to tackle the woes and wonders of ideological brainwashing, but suffers greatly under a less-than-stellar script. Moments that feel, for lack of a better word, silly. Silly in how cliché and mesmerizingly boring they are. There is no density to these topics, no real cause or concern for characters, or crucially, the topics they’re meant to represent.
Annoyingly fleeting and not at all deep, The Wave will guide its audience through the horrors of fascism without actually taking such a sickening ideology head on. Much of the real terror comes from the unknowing nature in which the students of Wenger work their way into a state of right-wing ideology. Sleepwalking into this nature is a key component to the film, one that isn’t represented all that well, nor in much interest that could suggest anything than a light, sweeping statement against uniformity and dated ideas. Strong enough a message to work on its own, the history of fascism shows the true horrors, all The Wave can do is pour generalised and mundane characters into a film that has little thought behind it.