The Wave (2008 film)

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The Wave
Diewelle poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Dennis Gansel
Produced by Rat Pack Filmproduktion
Christian Becker
Screenplay by Dennis Gansel
Peter Thorwarth
Ron Jones (novel & diary)
Based on The Wave 
by Morton Rhue
Starring Jürgen Vogel
Frederick Lau
Max Riemelt
Jennifer Ulrich
Music by Heiko Maile
Distributed by Constantin Film Verleih GmbH
Release dates
  • 18 January 2008 (2008-01-18) (Sundance)
Running time
107 minutes
Country Germany
Language German
Budget 5 million
Box office €23,679,136[1]

Die Welle (English: The Wave) is a 2008 German thriller film directed by Dennis Gansel and starring Jürgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Jennifer Ulrich and Max Riemelt in the leads. It is based on Ron Jones' social experiment The Third Wave. The film was produced by Christian Becker for Rat Pack Filmproduktion. It was successful in German cinemas, and after ten weeks, 2.3 million had watched it.


High school teacher Rainer Wenger is forced to teach a class on autocracy, despite being an anarchist. When his students, third generation after the Second World War,[2] do not believe that a dictatorship could be established in modern Germany, he starts an experiment to demonstrate how easily the masses can be manipulated. He begins by demanding that all students address him as "Herr Wenger", as opposed to Rainer, and places students with poor grades beside students with good grades – purportedly so they can learn from one another and become better as a whole. When speaking, they must stand and give short, direct answers. Wenger shows his students the effect of marching together in the same rhythm, motivating them by suggesting that they could really annoy the anarchy class, which is below them. Wenger suggests a uniform, to remove class distinction and further unite the group. Mona argues it will remove individuality, as well. Karo shows up to class without the uniform and is ostracised. The students decide they need a name, deciding on "Die Welle" (The Wave). Karo suggests another name, which ends up with one single vote cast by herself.

The group is shown to grow closer, and the bully Bomber is shown to reform, protecting a classmate from bullies. He also creates a distinctive salute for the group. Karo and Mona protest the actions of the group, and Mona, disgusted with how her classmates are embracing fascism, leaves the project group. The other classmates don't see the connection with fascism. The members of The Wave begin spray-painting their logo around town, having parties where only Wave members are allowed to attend, and ostracising and tormenting anyone not in their group. Tim becomes very attached to the group, having finally become an accepted member of a social group. He burns his name-brand clothes, after a discussion about how large corporations do not take responsibility for their actions.

A pair of anarchist punks start a fight with Tim, but he is saved by Bomber and Sinan and starts to bond with them. When Tim and his group of new friends are confronted by a group of angry anarchists (including the punks that Tim faced previously), Tim pulls a Walther PP pistol, causing them to back down. Tim explains to his shocked friends that the pistol only fires blanks. Tim later shows up at Wenger's house, offering to be his bodyguard. Wenger declines his offer but invites Tim in for dinner. This puts further strain on Wenger's already tense relationship with his wife, who thinks the experiment has gone too far. Wenger finally ejects Tim from his house, only to find in the morning that the boy had slept on his doorstep. Wenger's wife, upset, tells him to stop the experiment immediately. He accuses her of being jealous and insults her dependency on pills to be able to show up to work. Shocked, she leaves him, saying the Wave has made him a worse person.

Karo continues her opposition to the Wave, earning the anger of many in the group, who ask her boyfriend, Marco, to do something about it. A water polo competition is due that day, and Wenger asks The Wave to show up in support of the team. Karo and Mona, denied entry to the competition, sneak in another way to distribute anti-Wave fliers. Members of The Wave notice this and scramble to retrieve the papers before anybody reads them. In the chaos, Sinan starts a fight with an opposing team member, the two almost drowning each other. Members of the Wave in the stands begin to violently shove one another. After the match, Marco confronts Karo and accuses her of causing the fight. She replies that the Wave has brainwashed him completely, and he slaps Karo, causing her to get a nosebleed. Unsettled by his own behavior, Marco approaches Wenger and asks him to stop the project. Wenger agrees and calls a meeting of all Wave members for the following day in the school's auditorium.

Once in the meeting, Wenger has the doors locked and begins whipping the students into a fervour. When Marco protests, Wenger calls him a traitor and orders the students to bring him to the stage for punishment. Wenger uses this to force the students to see how extreme the Wave has become. Wenger disbands the Wave, but Dennis argues that they should try to salvage the good parts of the movement. Wenger points out that there's no way to remove the negative elements from fascism. Tim draws a gun and refuses to accept the Wave is over, fearing that he will once more be lonely and states that the Wave is his life. When Bomber says the gun only fires blanks, Tim shoots him to prove the pistol has live rounds. Wenger tries to calm Tim, who is now aiming the gun at him. When Tim demands why he shouldn't shoot Wenger too, Wenger says that without him, there would be no one to lead The Wave. Tim abruptly shoots himself instead, preferring to commit suicide rather than go on living without The Wave. Wenger cradles his corpse and looks helplessly at his now traumatised students. The film ends with Wenger being arrested by the police and driven away, Bomber being taken away to the hospital, and Marco and Karo being re-united. The final images show Wenger in the back of a police car, staring into the camera overcome with distress.


  • Jürgen Vogel as Rainer Wenger, the teacher who started the experiment with his class.
  • Frederick Lau as Tim, an insecure, mentally unstable student who has had problems at school. At the beginning of the film he is pictured as an outsider until The Wave project starts. Then he becomes a committed member and finds new friends.
  • Max Riemelt as Marco, a strong boy, who plays in Wenger's water polo team. He is Karo's boyfriend.
  • Jennifer Ulrich as Karo, a diligent and intelligent student. She protests against The Wave and because of this, she has intense rows with Marco and her friends.
  • Cristina do Rego as Lisa, a shy girl who has never had a boyfriend. She is best friends with Karo, but later they have an argument when Karo protests against The Wave.
  • Christiane Paul as Anke Wenger, is the wife of Rainer and teaches in the same school.
  • Elyas M'Barek as Sinan, a student of Turkish descent and member of the water-polo team. He is Bomber's best friend. Elyas M'Barek had earlier appeared in Gansel's film Mädchen, Mädchen.
  • Maximilian Vollmar as Bomber, a bully who reforms thanks to The Wave and befriends Tim
  • Maximilian Mauff as Kevin, an upperclass student who clashes with The Wave at first until he joins the group for social reason as he loses his status
  • Jacob Matschenz as Dennis, a student who comes from East Germany. He becomes a member of The Wave, like most of his classmates.
  • Ferdinand Schmidt-Modrow as Ferdi
  • Tim Oliver Schultz as Jens
  • Amelie Kiefer as Mona
  • Odine Johne as Maja
  • Fabian Preger as Kaschi
  • Tino Mewes as Schädel
  • Maxwell Richter as Anarchist
  • Alexander Held as Tim's father
  • Dennis Gansel as Martin


The film was shot in the Marie Curie Gymnasium in Dallgow-Döberitz over 38 days. It was shot on 35 mm.[3] The filmmakers spent almost a year casting young actors until their class was complete.[4]

Actors linked the shooting, done at a school, to their own memories of school time.[5]

Dennis Gansel explained that the ending was inspired by the Emsdetten school shooting.[6]


The soundtrack of the film was released on 25 May 2008 through EMI Germany, and contains tracks by The Subways, Kilians, Johnossi, Digitalism and The Hives, as well as a cover version of the classic Ramones' track "Rock 'n' Roll High School" made for the film by the German punk band EL*KE. Jan Plewka wrote and recorded a song for the film, Was Dich So Verändert Hat, in both a German and English version. The German version ended up in the film but the English version is available on an international version of the soundtrack. The title-song "Garden Of Growing Hearts" was performed by Berlin band Empty Trash. The original film score was composed by Heiko Maile, a member of the band Camouflage.

Die Welle
Soundtrack album by Various
Genre Soundtrack
Length 80 minutes
Label EMI Germany
  1. "Intro - Jürgen Vogel & Tim Oliver Schultz"
  2. "Rock'n'Roll Highschool - EL*KE"
  3. "Rock & Roll Queen (Album Version) - The Subways"
  4. "Execution Song - Johnossi"
  5. "Fight The Start - Kilians"
  6. "Garden Of Growing Hearts (Radio Edit) - Empty Trash"
  7. "Spending My Time - Orange But Green"
  8. "Short Life Of Margott - Kilians"
  9. "Everything Is Under Control - Coldcut"
  10. "Bored - Ronda Ray featuring Markie J"
  11. "Homzone - Digitalism"
  12. "Move It! - Ronda Ray Featuring Trevor Jackson"
  13. "Nightlite - Bonobo"
  14. "Was Dich So Verändert Hat - Jan Plewka"
  15. "Arrested - Heiko Maile"
  16. "Power Control - Ronda Ray Featuring Trevor Jackson"
  17. "Climbing Up the Tower - Heiko Maile"
  18. "Sending Out an SMS - Heiko Maile"
  19. "Swimming - Heiko Maile"
  20. "White Shirts - Heiko Maile"
  21. "Dark School - Heiko Maile"

Differences from the 1981 film[edit]

In the 1981 film and its novelization, the action takes place in 1969 in the fictitious Gordon High School, which in turn is based on a series of events at a school in Palo Alto, California. The names were changed to sound German, but the characters are similar. For example, Rainer Wenger, Karo, Marco, Mona, and Tim correspond to Ben Ross, Laurie Saunders, David Collins, Andrea, and Robert Billings. The outsider theme was expanded by introducing three new characters: Sinan who is Turkish, Kevin the aggressive bully, and Dennis from East Germany who is mocked as "Ossi". The 1981 film's ending, where there is no violence and the teacher is not arrested, is much tamer than the ending of Die Welle.


See also[edit]


External links[edit]