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The Wave: movie review

A fictional twist on psychological experiments illustrating Germans' compliance during the Nazi regime, 'The Wave' explores one teacher's experience teaching about autocracy in a current-day German high school. 

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In directing The Wave, Gansel’s strengths are in the classroom. A solid, dependable young cast gives weight to his words; cinematographer Torsten Breuer gives urgency to the action, shooting the makings of a movement from the back of the room, and then zipping between kids with kinetic swish pans that don’t feel overdone. You can almost feel the clouds breaking for some of these students, the energy rippling within their burgeoning political minds.

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When Gansel moves The Wave outside the school, the results are more of a mixed bag. There are some appropriately tense moments with a touch of teen naivete, as the students bring their fist-pumping force out into the streets, rabble-rousing and tagging up buildings. But as their self-propelled program evolves away from Wenger, we feel a little less gravity, a diminished focus. Instead, Gansel relies on an obvious story, that of a troubled student who translates his new feelings of pride into a dangerous obsession. There’s still some depth in the telling, though, from Wenger’s relationship with his wife, to the growing realization that The Wave may be going too far.

What happens to psychological test subjects when the game is finally over, when the leaders come clean with their lies? The effects can be devastating. Students of The Third Wave wept when teacher Ron Jones revealed the purpose of his lesson. The Stanford experiment lasted only six of 14 days due to widespread abuses. Gansel, clearly keen to the potential dangers, takes his fictional conclusion as far as it can go. Seems like he’s the teacher in this case, working out the hard lessons without anyone getting hurt.

Norm Schrager blogs at Meet in the Lobby.

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