Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Co-Founder of Dogme 95, Danish director of The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg’s recent film The Hunt (Jagten) is a dazzling and intense study of public persecution, but also of the nature of friendship and trust. It asks the question — how well do we really know each other? How far are we willing to go on blind trust to defend a friend accused of something incredibly heinous?
Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a lonely, but sweet-natured kindergarten teacher in a small community in Denmark. He lives alone in a big house, wishing that his son could come to live with him. When one of his students (and also the daughter of his best friend), Klara, gets angry with him, she inadvertently accuses him of exposing his genitals to her. No one really even asks Lucas’ side of the story — they go straight to torches and pitchforks. “Children don’t lie,” several characters are heard to say through out the film. Though as the innocent Lucas learns the hard way, children aren’t the little angels that they look like — in fact, as any parent of a toddler can tell you, they are cold, hard sociopathic liars through and through.
It’s hard to watch as tiny mistakes in the resulting investigation falling into place lead the community further down the path of persecution. This may seem like the kind of movie where the audience thinks, ‘why is that woman asking such leading questions of the little girl? Doesn’t that seem fake?’ She’s not asking what happened — she’s practically telling her. But this is exactly how these situations play out in real life. Kids are sponges and little Klara often just spits back wording that she’s heard before (including her knowledge of male anatomy, which comes from her brother and his friends in an excellent plant of information early in the film).
This happened in a bedroom community near where I grew up. A ton of adults and even some police officers became implicated in a Satanic sex cult, which was, after too long a time, found to be total rubbish. It ruined the good name of a community for a time, and it ruined some people’s lives forever. In the movie, Lucas is attacked in the streets — this really happens to people that are implicated in real life cases like this.
My one main issue with the film would be the way they jump the gun on the whole thing, but don’t involve the police until later. Is this cultural? Do they not call the police when something is rotten in the state of Denmark? I’d guess they do. In Lucas’ case, the school administrator who is heading the manhunt holds public meetings, and even phones Lucas’ ex-wife and son to tell them the news, before involving the police. Is this poor procedural writing, or the brilliant writing of a character that thinks she’s doing the right thing?
And on this note, sometimes characters seem to do things that you wouldn’t do in reality — but again, is this a case of truth being stranger than fiction? Lucas could have stuck up for himself more, but it seems that it isn’t in his nature at all (he asks more questions than he gives people answers). He seems painfully obtuse at times. He even does some strange things, like having a private post-accusation conversation with Klara when she comes to his door, rather than yelling for the woman in his home at the time to come and make sure he has a witness. Again, is this a failure in logical writing, or a telling character moment? Is Lucas too kind and simple to really comprehend the trouble he’s in, until it’s too late?
But aside from some of these moments, the film is a thoughtful and intense piece of work. It is a film about relationships, and just how far they can be tested and stretched out of shape before they’ll snap back. As the audience, in a bit of dramatic irony, we know Lucas is innocent. But the community has no such luxury. Some friends have no doubt in their mind that Lucas is innocent, while some of his closest friends write him off. And it would be easy to portray all these disbelievers as one-dimensional bad guys, especially the school administrator — but what else are people to do in a situation like this? You can’t downplay the seriousness of such a crime were it truly happening — so how do you act when you can’t determine innocence?
The Hunt was one of the better dramas I’ve seen in the last year. Without giving away the last scene, I’ll just say I thought it was brilliant. It leaves us with the message that this experience is something that is going to haunt Lucas for the rest of his life.