Professor Reiner, or Herr Wenger as he’s called when exercising his duties, slowly starts manipulating his pupils without having them realise it. The consequence comes in a collective agreement between the kids to submit themselves to an autocratic system. They support, promote and feed the machinations without making use of critical thinking or linking behaviour to past events.
The almost unnoticeable, carefully structured manner in which this occurs perfectly illustrates what could happen at any given moment in history. It is particularly apt now, when humankind seems to have forgotten its own past. In the film, Reiner’s first request sounds simple enough – he asks the students to address him as Mr. Wenger in order to demonstrate respect. His next move requires the children to stand up whenever they feel the need to express themselves. The explanation he delivers is that when you are standing blood circulation becomes more efficient; when the right excuses are delivered, people can be convinced they are taking good measures and providing sensible actions. Even when recent history says otherwise, to a point where acts of rebellion are not as strong as they should be and the autocratic system created is a well fed beast. In The Wave, when a few students refuse to submit themselves to such humiliation, they are expelled from class.
And it doesn’t stop there. In order to deliver equality to all, Mr. Wenger suggests that everyone follows a dress code which eliminates each child’s individuality. Every pupil begins wearing white shirts. There’s no such thing an individual in the class any more, there is only the system. Any contradiction becomes repression. The select rebels are not allowed to express themselves until every white shirt has finished giving their respective opinions. Students are asked to march in a sound imitation of the Wehrmacht with the purpose of bothering the class downstairs, the very room where the Anarchist group are exiled to.
The class starts being taken very seriously. The new system is named” The Wave” and a symbol is created to represent it is spread all over town. The students create their own greeting, excluding everybody who is not part of their group which in turn manipulates others into joining them.
What should have been a class about Autocracy turns into something much bigger, a movement out of control. What can be learned from this story is that it can happen even in the smallest of environments; not only inside a continent or inside a country or a small town but even inside a high school class. The film portrays, in an excellent manner, how easy it is to manipulate people by recreating a recent dictatorial past, even when society itself don’t believe it to be possible. It shows how the how effective subtle manipulative acts can be.
In 2017 we should remember The Wave in order to make better choices.