To explain to his students the atmosphere in the 1930's Nazi-Germany, history teacher Burt Ross initiates a daring experiment. He declares himself leader of a new movement, called 'The Wave'. Inspired, he proclaims ideas about Power, Discipline and Superiority. His students are strikingly willing to follow him. Soon the entire school is under the spell of 'The Wave'. Anyone who refuses to be a part of the Movement, faces threats or worse. Ross himself gets carried away by his own experiment. Or has it turned into something more than an experiment? A climax is unavoidable, resulting in a hard lesson for both Ross and his students...
-A frightening study in psychology.
Based on a real incident at an American high school in 1967, this short TV movie shows the horror of mob psychology and group pressure. The high school teacher gives his students a lesson in the history of Nazi Germany, not by having them read a chapter in a book but by turning them into Nazis -- without their even being aware that it is happening.
The film should be part of every school's curriculum. The tendency toward in-groups and gangs is strong amongst teens, and the tragic consequences can be seen periodically in the news headlines. This film is a warning of the potential that lurks within us all.
- Looking rather dated these days, but still a useful bit of social theory
There would be thousands of high-school students who read the novel that preceded this film, that is essentially about the power of the group on the individual, and the lack of tolerance that a 'mainstream' group has for diversity or free thought. Unfortunately the movie now looks dated and excessively melodramatic; it would be good to see it re-made with more realistic script-writing and better acting.
As a resource for social psychology its fairly simplistic and basic, but the point is evident: you can shape impressionable minds into a monolithic and unified group easily enough, and that group will as a consequence seek to eliminate diversity and perceived weakness, through intimidation and violence if necessary. The novel and film stemmed from an actual 'experiment' conducted by a high-school teacher in the 1970s, in line with Jane Elliott's 'brown eyes, blue eyes' trial in social manipulation. Mind you, when Elliott conducts this experiment with adults (which she still does today in seminars) much more resistance and non-conformity is evident. Is that evidence that society has changed and is becoming more tolerant? Or just that adults are far less malleable and impressionable than children and teenagers?
The climax of The Wave - that the students have in fact been modelling themselves on the Nazis, and their mysterious leader is Adolf Hitler - is entirely predictable (especially when you consider that the whole activity started with a class discussion about why the Nazis enjoyed such broad support.) Such an extreme metaphor is not needed, however, because The Wave could've been any group: KKK, al Qaeda, a successful sports team or even a schoolyard peer group. I sometimes think that students doing social psychology miss the point here - that any group can exclude unfairly, intimidate to achieve its own ends, or suppress alternative or 'different' viewpoints from within it - because they think it's 'just about the Nazis'. Perhaps the old Usenet chestnut about Godwin's Law could be invoked about this film.
Bruce Davison .... Bruce Ross
Robert DeLapp (I)
Johnny Doran .... Robert
Pasha Gray .... Amy
Larry Keith (I) .... Saunders
Lori Lethin .... Laurie
Frank Lloyd (IV)
Wesley Pfenning .... Christy Ross (as Wesley Ann Pfenning)
John Putch .... David
Runtime: 44 min