Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt made a splash at the Cannes film festival earlier this year when the central actor Mads Mikkelsen (who plays Lucas) picked up the prize for Best Actor. The Danish film follows the life of Lucas, a nursery worker, who is wrongly accused of molesting a child. As a result, he becomes the victim of a long witch-hunt which sees the tight-knit community turn against him. He’s left degraded and a broken man as his life poignantly descends from one low to the next. But Vinterberg is seemingly making a more profound point than simply the exposure of paedophilia; rather, it’s the consequences when such an act is attributed to an innocent man, then followed by the long road to redemption.
The film opens with the autumn sunshine and the red trees in a picturesque Danish town. We can glean Lucas is already troubled and is struggling to see his son after just divorcing his wife; nonetheless, the audience are immediately presented with a diffident but likeable character. We are also introduced to the angelic but mysterious Klara (Annika Wdderkopp) who has a good relationship with Lucas, her nursery teacher, but is often presented as alienated from her family and the other children. But most importantly, the audience is reminded several times at the start of the film that she has a “big imagination”. This claim is established for the audience when this trait sees Klara creating the lie about Lucas.
Klara’s imagination presents one of Vinterberg’s main questions: does the innocence of children make them infallible; do children always tell the truth? The nursery workers, Klara’s parents and the whole town are completely convinced of her honesty. Klara’s father, and best friend of Lucas, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), aptly sums it up when he says: “Why would she be lying? I know her, she never lies.”
The film reaches a turning point when it begins to unravel in a series of meetings. An outsider comes to interview Klara about her allegation and the audience assumes that he’s from social services. The man is gentle and patient, but comes across as the antithesis of the sheltered innocence of the nursery setting with his husky voice, robust figure and shaggy beard. What follows is an intense awkward exchange where very specific questions are asked, leaving the audience feeling a little uncomfortable.
From this point on, Lucas’ tragedy unfolds. The Hunt puts emphasis on the devastation a false allegation as serious as paedophilia has on the accused man and his life, as opposed to the more common ‘traumatising impact on victim and family’ angle that we would often see in the news. The middle section of the film depicts Lucas’ spiralling plight and the pathos from the audience is sincere. It’s painful to watch him struck by one misfortune after the other as his community betrays him and he becomes increasingly isolated, exacerbated when we see his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom) struggle with the situation.
The film climaxes at Christmas time and Lucas is alone. Vinterberg has shown us how the innocence of a child’s imagination can in fact have serious consequences when it misleads an entire community. Lucas, with nothing left to lose, gets ready for Christmas Eve at church to the backdrop of a melancholy chorus. Sequenced like the warrior preparing for battle, Vintenberg effectively dramatises the path to redemption. The beleaguered man stumbles down the aisle to many wide eyes taking his seat at the front. He breaks down at the bitter irony of the nursery choir and looks at his friend Theo. Through their eye contact Theo can seemingly glean his innocence. Later that night, Theo brings the forlorn and isolated man some Christmas dinner, essentially acquitting him from any wrongdoing.
Lucas’ life returns to normal as we flash forward one year. But Vinterberg gives the film one last kick with an ambiguous ending suggesting Lucas will never really be vindicated. However, in the end, the audience is left with a resonating message from Theo about the strength of friendship and family when he tells his daughter: “The world is full of evil, but if we hold on to each other it goes away.”
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