Do you think autocracy could happen again in the contemporary era like it did with the Nazis in the 1930s? Die Welle, which means ‘The Wave’ in English, is a movie that answers this question by remaking a real story that happened in a high school. The Argus and Vita Activa, a club in HUFS, had an opportunity to talk about the messages in this movie.
The Argus: Please introduce yourselves.
Kim Tae-ho (Dept. of Malay-Indonesian, 12’): We are members of ‘Vita Activa’, which means ‘to move into action’ in Latin. Our motto is “We move into action to make the society we live in a better place.” Members of Vita Activa share their ideas after reading books or watching movies to achieve the club’s goal.
What is Die Welle about?
Argus: How would you summarize the message of Die Welle?
Kim Tae-ho: Die Welle makes viewers think about fascism, one of the most violent political systems, which can be found within ourselves by watching how high school students actually absorb the idea. After watching this movie, one gets to ponder whether this could happen to us too.
Lee Dong-jae (State University of New York): Through Die Welle, I realized that I may have been a part of the totalitarianism that happens within Korea’s educational system, and I’m sure other Korean viewers will be able to feel the same while watching the movie.
Lee Sang-hyun (Japanese Linguistics, 05’): The movie helps us to reflect on our society and the environment we are living in. Fascism seems like a story that isn’t our business at all, but viewers get to realize, through the characters in the movie, how it may be taking place around us right now.
Kim Tae-ho: I would like to add that this movie shows how fascism is not something old and will not ever happen again by showing how fascism spreads among high school students in just a week. We, the viewers of the movie, may be exposed to such ideas as well.
A student not wearing Die Welle’s white shirt is getting glares.
Argus: What was the process that made the students absorb totalitarianism?
Kim Tae-ho: The teacher in charge of a class that was to cover dictatorships asked the students, “Do you think dictatorships will ever happen again in Germany?” Addressing the question, the students answered, “No.” It was this question that triggered the teacher to try a project of applying totalitarianism to the class and this became the Die Welle project.
Lee Sang-hyun: The teacher, Rainer, first created symbols for the class. Wearing white clothes as a uniform, making a special salute, naming the group ‘Die Welle’ and designing a logo are several examples of his activities. Students who did not follow the rules were excluded from Die Welle. This part reminded me of how the fascist Nazis branded the Jews in the past and excluded them from society, which can be seen as fascism. Even contemporary North Korea is applying these sets of rules to keep control of their people.
Kim Tae-ho: This whole process is about how to make members understand how important a group is. There is a scene where Rainer says that it is alright for students to cheat on tests if the result is a higher average score for the class. He made this claim as part of the Die Welle project to emphasize the importance of their group.
Lee Dong-jae: After a person internalizes how superior a group is, they can actually feel that they are a part of that group. People who are loners or have poor social skills can feel mentally stable in their group, which was the case for the students in the movie.
Argus: Students really became fanatical about Die Welle throughout the process. What kind of power did Die Welle have and what were the important points?
Lee Sang-hyun: The strength and goal of Die Welle reminded me of what I learned about the Japanese colonial period. The Japanese tried to destroy the culture of Korea by ordering Koreans to change their names to Japanese and many other ways. This approach ignores each individual’s characteristics, which happened in Die Welle as well. These kinds of organizations gather members under the one big name of the group to establish one big power.
Kim Tae-ho: And so, in Die Welle, students felt like they became a part of a great project. There is a scene of Rainer reading the note of a student who is a Die Welle member, saying, “I was just a bully before, but after I became a part of Die Welle, I actually could perform meaningful jobs for our group.” Another scene showed a large number of students who came to cheer for a water polo match. All of them cheered together, creating one large voice for the whole crowd. As these scenes showed, in a totalitarian system, an individual feels like they become an important person of the group and that everyone is equal. The truth is that the very nature of things doesn’t change; everybody, despite appearances in the system, cannot become equal.
Lee Sang-hyun: I think Die Welle isn’t really based on thorough communication between members. They just seemed to be hiding the fact that they were lonely and possessed fake relationships. Also, Die Welle created its power by motivating students, just like how Koreans were motivated to stand against the Japanese in the Japanese colonial era.
Kim Tae-ho: Talking about characters and the strength of Die Welle, a character called Tim showed the very power and weakness of this group. Tim improved upon his status in school thanks to Die Welle. Several classmates who bullied him took Tim’s side after the establishment of Die Welle and Tim became the self-addressed bodyguard of Rainer. These changes still could not change the original relationship between Tim and his classmates.
Lee Dong-jae: As a whole, the power of Die Welle comes from the emotions and satisfactions of its members. Students experienced a sense of belonging that they couldn’t receive from the society and recognized how worthy they really could be. As for Tim, he felt like he found his place in Die Welle, which was what he dreamed for. This would have meant a great deal to him even though his parents looked down on him at home.
Die Welle is a German movie that was played at theaters in 2008.
Linking Die Welle to our society
Argus: At the end of the project, what were the consequences of the Die Welle show?
Kim Tae-ho: Die Welle’s system, based on totalitarianism, led to its collapse in the end. I think it was Rainer’s way of using shock treatment to show the students the power of a group, especially when he asked the students whether they were really going to follow his every order in the last scene of the movie. This shock treatment didn’t work for Tim, however, because Die Welle had become his entire life.
Lee Sang-hyun: The catastrophe at the end proved that it is important to accept the criticism of people who aren’t in your group. From the last scene where classmates who came to cheer kicked and harmed people on the opposing side, I realized that this violence is rooted from the bond of members inflicted by totalitarianism.
Lee Dong-jae: True. Marco, a water polo player, learned how effective a “passing” technique can be, thanks to the tightly-bonded Die Welle members. This is a good point of a tight group. However, watching the part where Marco’s friend injured an opposing player, one can see the brutality exhibited by that same tight group.
Lee Sang-hyun: I’d like to point out that Die Welle was a coercive project from the beginning to the end. Rainer planned the project and orchestrated its progression from the beginning to end. Even the last scene, when Rainer announced that Die Welle was over proves that the whole project was based on the preexisting power of the teacher.
Tim, a student in Die Welle, became stronger and self-confident as his bond became tighter
with Die Welle. This is a scene of Tim fighting against the bullies who always bothered him.
Rainer makes a queer expression at the last scene of the movie. After burying his head
in his hands, he looks straight at the viewers with an expression that he realized something.
Many say that his face gives the impression that anybody can become a part of Die Welle.
Argus: To wrap up, what does Die Welle mean as a whole?
Lee Sang-hyun: The moment students followed Rainer’s words without questioning. Die Welle became uncontrollable. It’s the same with the members in our society; once our ability to determine whether the media and politicians are doing their work is impossible, a catastrophe can happen even now.
Kim Tae-ho: History repeats itself and morality may degenerate. Rainer asked the students whether they thought autocracy could happen again and the students said no, saying that Germans have endlessly repented for their past sins. However, the events of Die Welle are based on a real story that actually occurred.
Lee Dong-jae: The power of the environment on people is great. Die Welle changed the attitudes and mind sets of the class, and this can happen to us as well. Actually, our characters and behaviors are always influenced by the groups and institutions we belong to.