Trailer for The Wave

The trailer for The Wave reminds me of The Stanford Prison Experiment and Lord of the Flies.

On behalf of Sundance Selects, we're pleased to share the first trailer from the teen political drama THE WAVE! From acclaimed German director Dennis Gansel, the film will release theatrically this Friday in New York City. Additionally, the film will be available nationwide on video-on-demand in more than 50 million homes across the country beginning June 8th.

Germany today. During project week, high school teacher Rainer Wenger (Jürgen Vogel) comes up with an experiment in order to explain to his students how totalitarian governments work. A role-playing game with tragic results begins. Within a few days, what began with harmless notions like discipline and community builds into a real movement: THE WAVE. By the third day, the students start ostracizing and threatening others.

When the conflict finally erupts into violence at an intramural water polo game, the teacher decides to break off the experiment. But it's too late. THE WAVE is out of control...

The Wave


  1. Is this based on an old Canadian TV show?

    I have a very clear memory of a similar situation being played out in a CBC after school special from when I was a kid (in the 80s).

    It was even called The Wave.
    -Charismatic teacher
    -cynical kids —it couldn’t happen to us
    -finally at the end, a lesson.

    Time to get googling, brb

  2. Hurry back from that Google trip, JoeKickass. I’m 100% certain I saw this 20 years ago on tv. Definitely called “The Wave”.

    1. Let’s see what I can remember without looking it up:

      “Strength through [truth?]!
      Strength through Community!
      Strength through Action!”

      How’d I do? Lemme see… hittin’ up the IMDB…

      Damn! The first was “Strength through discipline.” Still, not bad considering I haven’t seen it since Reagan’s first term.

      Yeah, scary how quickly totalitarianism can creep up on us, sure, but how many times do they have to remake this story?

  3. here’s a site with some more on the wave.
    apparently this is based on a true story that took place in palo alto in the late 60’s. we watched this in hebrew school when i was younger. i think this german version will definitely bring a different tone to the story.

  4. There we go. Frankly, it seemed more appropriate for the after-school-special treatment it got in the 80s. I’m guessing this version stretches the original “true story” a bit past the breaking point.

  5. Whew! I’m glad other people remember the after-school special as well. I periodically ask friends if they remember watching it, and mostly get a big fat Zero. A rework should be interesting, though I agree, it’ll probably be more extreme today.

  6. Thanks to everyone who linked the real story. I guess I was too young to have seen this on TV but it still interests me.

  7. Thank goodness other people remember the old version! I read the post earlier, and my clear memories of seeing this 20 years ago in middle school made me wonder if I was going mad.

  8. I never saw the after-school-special, I’m kind of glad I didn’t as I feel that it might have cheapened the story a bit for me. I did however have to read the book in school and remember it as being one of the more memorable assignments I had. This seems a bit dramatized and seems like it gets more out of control than the book gets, but that could just be the trailer.

    The one thing I have a question about is whether it loses some of it’s relevance when the setting is moved to modern day Germany. I remember the original book having such an impact because it took place in America and showed how a group could be swept away by itself and it’s message, even going so far as to manifest prerogatives without direct influence from a designated leader, even in a country that supposedly puts freedom and the individual above the mandates of the state. Having it take place in Germany might show how disassociated the current youth is with what happened in the past, but I don’t think that anyone in that country will ever forget what happened only about 60 years ago. The German students I have met through exchanged programs have told me about taking field trips to the ovens at Auschwitz as a way to drive home the horrors of what happened because of that type of mentality. Also having Russia occupy half of their country after WWII until the late 80’s should have served as a good reminder of what happens with military dictatorships get out of control.

    I would hope that kids in Germany today get that it happened in their country and it could easily happen again. The story has more impact when it’s set in a country where that sort of thing hasn’t happened. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents, not saying that it will be bad.

  9. I saw this exact version of The Wave on a Lufthansa flight to Germany 4 years ago. It was pretty good if I recall.

  10. I think its sad that almost nobody ever mentions that the original story/article was originally published in CoEvolution Quarterly, the periodic sister to the Whole Earth Catalog, and one of the finest and most iconoclastic US magazines of the last 50 years. It deserves a bit more credit as the original point of publication, even though it later changed into the Whole Earth Review and then finally went defunct. The list of Boing-Boing-worshipped thinkers and writers who have roots deep in the culture the CoEvolution Quarterly helped to construct is very long, and I suspect quite a few commenters too, including this one.

  11. “You all would have made good little nazis.”

    Godwin be damned, seems like it’s time to remake this.

  12. I read this in English class in my British high school. I guess they don’t read it in the States?

    I had forgotten

    Strength through Unity!
    Strength through Community!
    Strength through Action!

    but I do remember the Wave salute, your curled right hand, like a wave, over your heart.

    I also remember that in some scene one of the kids whistles “Take me out to the ball game,” and I had to whistle it in class because no one else had ever heard of it.

  13. Hello guys,
    I’m from germany myself and saw this exact fim on TV (it came out in germany some time ago). Some of my fellow students in the same scool but another course read the book ( by Morthon Rue.

    I can confirm CoffeBlack:
    Every class makes a trip to a KZ (concentration camp – a more appropriat ename would be murdering camp) and gets a guided tour. Everyone I know has done that.
    So yes, we all are aware of what happened in the past, not at least through our legislation (we have a much stricter stance on the display of the swastika, for example).
    I think what this film relays quite good (for us german students, that is) is exactly this: We may think that something like the Third Reich might never happen again – but there you have it, it could happen again. Because if the film was set in America, you could say “Ah well, they don’t know as much about Totalitarism as we do, we would never fall for that”. But that is, of course, an illusion we very much like to keep alive.

  14. It’s good to dip into this little bit of history and share it, but I don’t think it’s good to distort the real thing to such mythical proportions.

    I thought past exaggerations of it were pretty bad, but this looks like it’s really blowing it up to be some sort of Bourne Identity-like thriller.

    All of the lessons of what actually happened are lost when the events are exaggerated to such an extent that it’s impossible to take it seriously.

    If you exaggerate it too much, you create exactly the problem the teacher was trying to address: it becomes so foreign a thing compared to everyday life that nobody believes anything like that could possibly happen where they are today, and if people don’t believe it can happen, they are making sure that it can.

  15. @AirPillo:
    How is it exaggerated? Did you actually see the film? All that is changed is the overdramatical ending

  16. Wow. I remember the original after school special, and thinking that it couldn’t happen here. This take on it should be very interesting. Don’t be surprised if Hollywood snaps this one up for a big screen remake sometime soon..

  17. So yes, we all are aware of what happened in the past, not at least through our legislation (we have a much stricter stance on the display of the swastika, for example).

    I’d like to see a costume drama produced, some day, set in America circa 1910. It should feature things like Americans giving the Nazi salute when offering the Pledge of Allegiance. And there should be swastikas all over the place. Just to make the obvious point.

  18. I vividly remember the first cinematic treatment that I saw on an “Afterschool Special” on TV. I remember thinking that none of his tricks would work on me because I was an outsider. But then he opened positions in the Secret Police…..

  19. Saw this movie — which is already some years old — in Germany. Unfortunately they changed one very crucial part from the original book/ essay/ event, making for a worse movie that replaces the chance for an insightful reflection with going for typical Hollywood-style effects. (I won’t spoil it here, but when you finish the movie to the end and know the original story, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

  20. Its based on the book, and a film version already exists as well.

    Probably should have put that in the article somewhere…

  21. Hmmm…the wave described herein seems rather foul.

    Here’s a wave of sweet sounds to wash away that foulness:

  22. Makes one wonder if we have some kind of instinct regarding discipline and such.

  23. At my middle school they showed us the old version of this in class. It seemed corny, but had a good message. I wish they’d followed up with a good overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment to show us that people, do, in fact, act like this.

  24. I must have seen this a dozen times in the 80’s. They played it every year in our post-Hebrew school classes (dor chadash and havurat noar for the Jew geeks out there plus every year of confirmation class after that I think!) and then in regular school as well.

  25. I grew up in Palo Alto. This happened at Cubberly High School, now no longer a school (it was turned into a community center 15-20 years ago).

    The story of The Wave was a sort of underground sensation at other schools in Palo Alto. I remember the first time I heard about it, as a freshman at Henry M. Gunn in the early 90s. It was hard to believe that something like this had happened here, in the bay area, in Palo Alto, a place that seemed so progressive. One of the reasons the story had such a big impact on me was that it did happen in a liberal part of the country, not some place I could write off as being full of racists and anti-Semites anyways.

    I’m glad to hear this story getting more attention. It is a powerful story, and something we would all do well to remember.

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