“The Hunt” ****1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Susse Wold, Lasse Fogelstrom, and Annika Wedderkopp
Written by: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
*note- “The Hunt” (also known by its’ Danish title “Jagten”) has been nominated for a 2013 Oscar for Best Foreign Film despite having a release date set in 2012. Due to its’ consideration as a 2013 nominee, I’m reviewing this as a 2013 release.
Community is an interesting word, isn’t it? I’ve always been led to believe that the term embodies a group of people working together towards the same goals- fellowship and support in good times and bad. No matter what country or region, it’s a universal idea. Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” is a maddening, frustratingly brilliant portrayal of a good man embattled by a broken community, either too lazy or too proud to self-reflect. It’s less of a commentary on pedophilia or child abuse and more a visceral commentary on what today’s idea of a community actually is, and the powerful way it can simultaneously build up or destroy an individual or group.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is an average, lonely guy. Recently divorced with a teenage son and a newer job, he’s made progress trying to piece his life back together. Interestingly, he’s the only male teacher in a preschool-kindergarten, but as the movie tells us, it appears that was his only choice after his other school closed. The children appear to adore him, and why not? He’s kind, helpful, and approachable. So approachable, in fact, that children come to him for solace, comfort, and even assistance using the restroom.
One particular child, his best friend’s daughter Klara (Wedderkopp), looks to Lucas to fill a role that her own parents haven’t been filling (which makes sense considering how much they fight). Klara just craves positive attention, and who could blame her? After all, it appears all she’s learning at home is animosity from her parents, and she’s even forced to view adult material by her brother and his friend at one point. What child wouldn’t gravitate towards another adult male that isn’t the embodiment of things she doesn’t yet understand? Unfortunately, the comfort that Klara finds in Lucas gets twisted in her mind with the need to ‘imitate’ adults, as she has been taught. In a perfect storm of events, the headmaster of the school is made to believe (via Klara) that Lucas has molested her.
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a film about molestation- instead it’s about communities, society, and the power of conjecture. From the moment that the headmaster suspects an issue, Lucas’ world falls apart. Word spreads rapidly about his alleged wrongdoing, and because the audience is made to be aware of his innocence, our outrage begins. This man endures alienation from friends, isolation from his son, a suspension from his job, an arrest, a savage beating from grocery store employees who ban him from shopping there, and violations to his property- even his pet.
This small community, so quick to rally around the young girl and her family, throws their entire weight behind destroying this man. Even his best friend, the father of the girl, can’t rely on their friendship bond to decide whether or not he’s at fault. Why bother waiting for evidence, a trial, or common logic, right? I got a sense that this community is so ugly on the ‘inside’ that they couldn’t wait to take it out on someone else- Lucas was simply an easy target. He’s a divorcee, lives by himself, is a male in a traditionally female job- he’s ripe for the picking. As a society, we’re familiar with this situation, for if you exhibit any quirks or deviate from the norm, it’s suspicious, and by proxy guilty to some.
This film stirred such an anger in me, but not simply because child abuse was a subject. I was more infuriated by the amount of ignorance displayed by a group of people who went out of their way to destroy a person’s reputation and livelihood. Even when young Klara admits her mistake, people go out of their way to ignore what she’s really saying. It sure must have taken a lot of self-hatred and lack of understanding to push even further against Lucas.
This community puts on a show with a sense of closeness, but we know better. Earlier in the film, we see these adults argue, get drunk, ignore their children, and it’s fine- but when a crisis happens, they’re a unified bunch, ready to take out their inadequacies on another. I’m obviously aware that an actual crime like the alleged one in this film should incite anger in a community. What’s so galling, that this film reflects in such a concise manner, is the inability of people to look within themselves, and how damaging it can be to others.
There’s a reason why we have law enforcement and courts in our world, for it’s a slippery slope when accusations fly. We’re understandably so protective of children that our mind’s defense mechanisms open up during a crisis, disregarding reason and intuition. “The Hunt”, showing the ugly side of smaller communities, will stick with me for some time. I watched a community shun the beliefs that it was likely founded upon. The film’s most powerful moment, as a battered Lucas tries to pull himself together for a Christmas Eve service, is simply poetic. A knowing look from Lucas to his best friend encapsulates the utter betray he must have felt. It’s a moment that I imagine many innocent community outsiders have felt over time, for it’s clear our world is no stranger to snap judgments. “The Hunt” is an important film to consider, and deserves mention as one of the best of the year.