“The Wave” is a famous 1981 American film. It´s quite short (only 45 minutes) and gives a low-budget impression. Still, it´s quite interesting, all things considered. The ending is something of a classic.
The film is supposedly based on real events in Palo Alto in April 1967, when a school teacher tricked his students into forming a kind of Hitler Youth organization to demonstrate how the Nazis could take power in Germany. I´m not sure if the Palo Alto experiment really happened, or whether it´s some kind of creative fiction.
Since the film is relatively short, it´s not very psychologically convincing. The students go very fast from average high school slackers to fanaticized storm troopers. Also, the message is unconvincing. No, it really can´t “happen here”, at least not in 1967 or 1981, since (of course) the political situation in the United States was very different from Weimar Germany. “The Wave” claims that fascism is within each one of us, which may be true in the abstract, but once again, not enough to actually turn people into Hitlerjugend just here and now.
Strictly speaking, the film actually makes an even stranger claim: that the Nazi experience was so sinister, that people forgot the whole thing shortly after the war, and in the same way, the Palo Alto students will try to suppress what happened during the Third Wave experiment. But this assumes that Germans weren´t Nazis at heart, but good liberals! Why else would they have had a rude awakening when the Allies broke the spell in 1945?
All this being said, “The Wave” could nevertheless be seen as a warning about another danger: cults. They are undoubtedly out there, ever ready to sink their teeth into unsuspecting victims.
It´s interesting to speculate about what would happen if “The Wave” was shown on American campus today. Let me guess: the film would be condemned as “racist” (since some of the “Nazis” are African American), “ableist” (since the existence of a classroom freak is taken for granted) and “sexist” (since the hero is a pretty girl). Then, attempted screenings would be attacked by...wait a minute…SJW stormtroopers…no, something´s not right about this scenario…