Human beings are individualistic as well as social beings. Individuals must negotiate the delicate balance between loyalty to oneself and allegiance to groups. A careful analysis of the film, The Wave, will reveal the razor-thin line between the two concepts and how humans gradually gravitate towards undesirable ends if they are not in control of their emotional and rational capacities when participating in group rituals and activities. Essentially, individual identity can easily be lost in group psyche through indoctrination and this can result in disastrous consequences if not controlled.
The Wave – An introduction
The Wave is a German film that was first screened in 2008. It was directed by Dennis Gansel and produced by Christian Becker. It is regarded as a very successful film judging by its reception by movie lovers and the number of screenplays it has received. The movie revolves around an experiment by a high school teacher and his students on how fascism develops and entrenches itself in society. Rainier Wegner is a school teacher who believes in anarchy but has to teach dictatorship in one of his classes. Apparently, his students do not believe that modern Germany can embrace dictatorship. To prove that the masses are still gullible and easily influenced he subjects the learners to an experiment which eventually turns out awry. He is appointed the leader of the group (which is called The Wave) and immediately issues dictatorial instructions which the students follow. The group eventually adopts uniform clothing, becomes exclusive and also displays hostility towards anybody who opposes it. The actions of The Wave result in breakdown of relationships with family, friends and other members of the larger society while the bonds between members are strengthened. Eventually, the group has to be disbanded but not before the death of two of its members and the arrest of Mr. Wegner (The Wave).
In this contextual analysis, the predicament of the characters depicted in the in The Wave, will be analyzed primarily from the context of the film itself and secondarily from the perspective of other texts in order to identify and describe the linkages between individual identity and group characteristics and the resultant effects on an individual group member’s behavior.
Every human being is a unique being with certain idiosyncratic behaviors that can be attributed to genetic factors. However, the individual is also a product of the society in which he or she lives. In the film, The Wave, each of the members of the group is, prior to joining it, a unique student or teacher. Mr. Wegner is a family man and anarchist with a point to prove. Mona and Karo are against the idea of losing their individuality through conformity to the norms and practices of the group. Tim is a lonely person with few friends who is in need of acceptance.
According to Grossman (144) Marshall, a Second World War historian and journalist, observed many soldiers fail to fire their personal weapons in battle because they have an inherent abhorrence of killing. This implies that as individuals, many of these soldiers were not for the idea of killing even when it was a perceived enemy. Actually, this had resulted in very poor rates of target shooting in the war. Grossman would therefore perceive the individuals in The Wave, before they became members, as persons acting from their own will and not coerced by the society.
Anderson, comments on a story in a book titled Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis which was written in the 1950s. In this narrative, a brother and sister are kidnapped and through indoctrination transformed from a dreary couple by their kidnappers to take up new roles in life which are livelier and fulfilling (Anderson 106). The two siblings have been acting as individuals according to their genetic make-up and upbringing until a new force enters the scene and transforms them into some kind of nobility. This mirrors Tim, a character in The Wave who was isolated and lonely before the group came to his rescue.
This film is very crucial in understanding how individuals can lose their identity and be manipulated to behave in certain ways when they are in a group. The Wave reveals that group loyalty and behavior can have very negative repercussions if not checked. Mr. Wegner’s idea may have been noble and well-intentioned but was turned into a violent cause by students who wanted to maintain and preserve their unity. Similarly, exclusivity and ostracizing of non-members indicates the possibility of such a group going down the precipice through sheer bigotry and prejudice.
Being rejected, excluded or accepted are part of communal life and the media is crucial in propagating such practices. Being part of a group has been an inherent human trait since time immemorial and acceptance is a very important cog in this relationship. Rejection may result in poor health and depression (“Social Acceptance and Rejection: The Sweet and the Bitter.”). In the film, Marco is more loyal to the group than to his girlfriend Caro and even beats her when she complains that he has been brainwashed by the group. Marco fears rejection from the group that has accepted him.
Grossman (148) asserts that in a combat situation the individual is not a killer but the group is. The soldier kills because he feels indebted to fellow comrades. Soldiers care a lot about how their peers perceive them and may be ready to die for their mates. They form bonds of loyalty which function only within that unit. In addition, working in groups tends to accentuate anonymity and the propensity to kill (151). A soldier can kill because he feels accountable to the group and also because of relative anonymity and the diffusion of responsibility in group action. Fighting as a unit or group increases the propensity to kill because of the bonds formed and loyalty to friends. In the case of The Wave the group started getting involved in personal battles of group members in the name of group cohesion. When one of them was in trouble, the rest tended to come to his or her rescue. When their team was playing a rival and Mr. Wegner was the coach, they fought fans of the rival team. Similarly, they had exclusive parties for their members and also ostracized non-members. All these were signs of group cohesion and loyalty just like with the soldiers.
Anderson (108) asserts that a group must be easily identifiable and easily distinguished from other by appearance, activities and other external elements. Symbols of differentiation include culture, physical boundaries, clothing, religion, songs and so on (Anderson110). This identity can be troubled by the existence of a minority which may not fit into the conventional definition of the group identity. From The Wave group members don similar clothes and have a name to identify the group and differentiate it from others. However, they look down upon the Karo and Mona who represents passive members who frown upon the negatives in the group.
Influence of groups on individuals
Having looked at how the individual and group identities are formed, it is crucial to analyze how the two concepts ate integrated in practice. In The Wave the role of the leader and the vulnerability of the members to the leader’s whims is evident. The students accept everything Mr. Wegner tells them to do because they adore him. This cements Mr. Wegener’s assertions about the possibility of poor and uninformed people who are facing inequalities being manipulated by any person who purports to phase out the divisive factors and create an equal and just society. In addition, the role of Tim is significant because it reveals how the vulnerable easily gel into any community that accepts them even if the ideology of such a group is lopsided.
Leaders indoctrinate and influence followers to attain certain ends. Adolf Hitler combined different ideologies that favored his intention to create the Nazi nation in the midst of a people ravaged by military defeats and economic difficulties. He reversed the gains of individualism and made the state the reference point for German pride and identity (Anderson 117). Cognizant of the pluralistic nature of modern reality, totalitarianism attempts to whip people’s opinions and reality to a single approach especially through propaganda and coercion (Anderson 116). Mr. Wegner was carrying out an experiment and played the role of indoctrinator whereby he attained cult status among the students by become the sole source of knowledge just like Hitler had done.
In Grossman’s opinion authority plays a great role in influencing the decision of a subject. In the military, the prospective killer must have a subjective respect for the authority figure as unfamiliar commanders receive very low rates of obedience (Grossman 144). Moreover, the authority figure issuing orders to kill must intensify the demand for the soldier to kill by deed and word. Additionally, a leader with legitimate, recognized and socially sanctioned authority has greater influence on soldiers when it comes to deciding to kill (Grossman 145). Grossman found out that in the army the leader plays a very crucial role in determining whether a soldier will shoot to kill or not. In The Wave, the leader had absolute control and therefore could induce students to commit any form of atrocities he wanted. The film, however, does not address the extreme negative effects of negative leadership on the leader. Although it mentions the separation of Wegner from his wife, Grossman posits that great leaders inspire soldiers to kill but invariably end up depressed or even commit suicide (147). In essence the consequences of following the instructions of a leader blindly will also be felt by the perpetrator even when the latter was only following commands.
However, leadership can also influence other individuals whether the leader perceives it or not. Anderson analyzes a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre titled “Childhood of a Leader” to elaborate on the issue of identity. In this story, the protagonist is Lucien who lives a low life of promiscuity with a lower class girl but admires another character Lemordant who appears to be more sophisticated and organized although he hates Jews. Lucien decides to ape Lemordant and starts hating Jews for no apparent reason to the extent that his anti-Semitic actions become evident and win him admirers both in his family and with women. He is delighted that now he can marry a girl of his own class and become a rich leader with servants to command around. (Anderson 107). In this case, unlike in the film where Wegner consciously and deliberately indoctrinates students, Lemordant influences Lucien to hate Jews unconsciously.
Moreover, the fact that the group goes out of control of even the leader is an indicator of the self-destructive abilities of a group of naïve and misinformed people who rely solely on the ideas of a manipulative leader. Individuals are likely to lose their ability to reason when in groups. Grossman, citing studies done by Dr Milgram at Yale University, asserts that human beings are capable of killing when placed under certain circumstances. The writer further cites Freud’s assertions that when a human being can behave in an extreme manner based on the need to obey (Grossman 142). The fact that the student in the film were placed under circumstances in which they felt the need to preserve their cohesion and ideals and also felt superior to others made them predisposed to commit the crimes they did. Moreover Mr. Wegner wanted to prove that authoritarianism could arise given the right condition and that Germany was not immune to such a possibility and he achieved his objective through his students.
Personal choices have consequences. This is the predicament that befalls Tim who cannot accept that The Wave is disbanded and not only kills himself but also a colleague. In Grossman’s analysis, a soldier who kills an innocent person like a child or woman is often haunted by regret and may undergo depression and eventually take his or her own life (Grossman 151). Even dictators do not escape personal responsibility and grief as evidenced by Hitler taking his own life (Anderson 117). In some cases, Grossman (151) posits disintegration of the group results in mass suicide or surrender among soldiers. This comes out clearly in the fatal actions of Tim after the group is disbanded.
Anderson, however, makes a point worth further research. He states that the media is currently being used to inculcate the kind of realities that its owners would want the world to believe. Film is also used both to partially demystify issues but also to create ambiguities and speculation. The media is in the business of recreating social reality (Anderson 129). This implies The Waves may just be an attempt at socializing people to believe that fascism or authoritarianism are undesirable.
The Wave is a movie that brings out the intricate balance between individual identity and playing one’s role in a group. Every human being has a personality bequeathed on him or her through nature and nurture. Membership of groups requires that the individual subsumes some of his or her interests for the sake of group cohesion. However, if one is not careful, a crafty leader, indoctrination and loyalty to other members may result in participation in detrimental activities. From the film, it is clear that members of any group must play their rightful role in groups in as far as those roles do not compromise their ability to play their civil and legal roles in society.
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