Die Welle (2008) – Film Analysis

die welle

Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University

Since fascism is a unique term and it is hard to describe one and only type of fascism, many scholars have long debated on definition of fascism. While fascism can be seen as a level of political regime such as Nazism, it can also articulate itself to the different ideologies such as nationalism and conservatism. In addition, fascism can appear as a spontaneous ceremony in language or in daily activities of people. The movie, namely ‘Die Welle’[1], directed by Dennis Gansel, presents an unusual experiment of a high school teacher to teach his students what it is like to live in an autocracy. Apart from being a masterpiece of German cinematography, the movie is important to show how fascist and autocratic aspects can develop in a modern context. Therefore, in this essay, I will try to analyze the movie ‘Die Welle’ and attempt to answer the questions how is the movie relevant to fascism as an ideology and what elements of fascism are detectable in the movie. In this context, my focus will be on general characteristics of fascism that have seen in the movie, particularly, creation of a mass, a state unit as well as a strong leader. Lastly, I will also try to point out some shortcomings of the movie.

Initially, Rainer Wegner as an unorthodox teacher has to teach on autocracy during a school project week. In the first lecture of the project, when Mr. Wegner asks the students whether or not an example of autocracy like ‘The Third Reich’ could ever happen again, all of the students believe that it could not happen. Then, in order to make the school project interesting for his students and to challenge his student’s approach to autocracy, Mr. Wegner performs an unusual experiment to show them an autocracy not only could happen today, but also it could happen to them. At the beginning of the experiment everything seems going well until the students start to take it seriously. The movie ends with a suicide of a student and being arrested of Mr. Wenger by the police and driven away. [2]

One of the aspects of fascism can be seen throughout the movie is, firstly, creation of a mass. Since fascism is not powerful without masses, it hates individuals. While there are many ways to creation of masses, in the movie, we observe creation of mass by logos, slogans, salute, etc. ‘Die Welle’ brings the students together as a group and they start to lose their individuality step by step. For example, they establish their own uniform and start to wear white T-shirts instead of different clothes that present their personal style.

Another important element of the fascism that is detectable in the movie is, indeed, creation a state unit and this state unit can be whether racist or nationalist. However, while fascism talks about creation of a pure race and nation and it excludes the others, ‘Die Welle’ is a kind of inclusive state unit regarding its characteristics. It is open to all without making a differentiation of race, religion, etc. For example, Turkish student Sinan as a member of a marginalized group in society is also welcomed by ‘Die Welle’. Still, although its inclusive characteristics, just like fascism that creates a common enemy and inferior group such Jews, Gypsies, ‘Die Welle’ also describes an enemy: the anarchy class. In one shot of the movie, Mr. Wenger and the students march together in the same rhythm just to annoy their enemy, the anarchy class below them.

Additionally, rationality behind the fascism argues that while the mass has limited capacity, the main function of the leader is to mobilize the mass since the leader has full capacity. The movie portrays the teacher, Rainer Wegner as the leader who enforces the rules required for an autocracy. However, in my opinion, Mr. Wegner is still far from being a strong, charismatic leader who has unlimited authority because it is hard to talk about unquestioned obedience to him by the students. He as a leader just has told some basic rules afterward the students were mostly acting more spontaneously and chaotically rather than following the leader, Mr. Wegner, all the time. Thus, ‘Die Welle’ can be seen as an autocracy that has some anarchist sense.

Overall, the movie presents what autocracy is and how an autocracy could happen even today but I just want to point out that the movie does not say about why it has happened. For example, Karo and Mona as two independent and strong characters gives the audience an oppositional look to ‘Die Welle’ and in one shot of the movie, these two girls distribute booklets around the school to ‘stop the wave’ but what is written in their manifest against to ‘Die Welle’ and why they hate it that much is not explained at all. Thus, instead of mostly focusing on some teenage high school clichés, the movie would better explain and focus on the reasons rather than ending with ‘I told you so’ conclusion. What must be noted that liberal propaganda of the movie is another shortcoming of it. On the other hand, it is obvious that the movie is kind of powerful plea by Dennis Gansel against to autocracy; therefore, the movie has a banal theme ‘Democracy is good, dictatorship is not’.

All in all, despite the movie’s minor shortcomings, ‘Die Welle’ is a creative movie to show that it is still easy to reconstruct an autocracy in anywhere. In this context, the end of the movie is powerful to show how history could happen again and the danger of an autocracy.



[1] ‘The Wave’ in English.

[2] The movie directed by Dennis Gansel has some differences from the original experiment made by American professor Ron Jones. The major difference are related to concerns the violence and the bloody end which is a part of the movie.