Jagten (English title: The Hunt). Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Screenplay by Tobias Lindholm & Vinterberg.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Sebastian Bull Sarning, and Steen Ordell Guldbrand. Danmarks Radio (DR)/Det Danske Filminstitut/Eurimages/Film i Väst/MEDIA Programme of the European Union/Nordisk Film-&-TV Fond/Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI)/Sveriges Television (SVT)/Zentropa Entertainments/Zentropa International Sweden. Rated R. 115 minutes.
Both director-writer Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen are artists I truly admire. I came to Vinterberg while in film school, taking in his heavy 1998 Dogme ’95 feature Festen. Admittedly, it took me a couple views to really settle into it. Mainly because of the devastating subject matter. But once you get into the film and appreciate all its nuances, from its filming to the performances, the whole thing is an impressive experience. Mikkelsen I discovered not long after once watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s fantastic, gritty Pusher (and its equally kick ass sequel). After seeing these first bits of work, I watched more of their films the further into cinephilia I fell.
The Hunt brings two wonderfully talented artists together, with Vinterberg directing and writing alongside Tobias Lindholm, and Mads Mikkelsen starring, as well as Thomas Bo Larsen who appeared in the aforementioned Festen. Tackling a deeply sensitive subject, especially nowadays with too many of these cases cropping up in all corners of the globe, The Hunt is the story of modern day witch hunting, communal relationships, friendship, trust and everything else in between. Pedophilia is a terrible thing, and we’ve seen plenty films based around it – the people involved, the effects of its trauma. However, not many movies opt to take a look at another side of the coin. While too many cases involving a man molesting a child have come to light in modern times, there are also a few cases where men have been innocent, falsely accused of horrendous crimes they’ve never committed, nor ever intended to commit even in their worst state of mind. With this excellent script set in a small, close-knit town, Lindholm and Vinterberg show us one of those tiny fractions in a microcosm. Anchored by an amazing, devastating and all too human performance from Mikkelsen, The Hunt has stuck with me ever since I first saw it a couple years ago.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Kindergarten teacher in Denmark. He is a friendly, considerate man. Lucas has a son, as well as bitter ex-wife who doesn’t particularly accommodate him. His friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) fights almost constantly with his own wife Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing). So Lucas often walks their daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) to school, looks out for her and generally makes sure she is all right. However, Klara sees a pornographic magazine due to her piggish brother Torsten (Sebastian Bull Sarning) and his friend. Then later she kisses Lucas on the lips at school. When Lucas explains this is inappropriate and also gives back a little gift she made him, Klara is hurt. This prompts her to make allegations of abuse, though indirectly, against Lucas.
The town soon bands together calling Lucas a pedophile and predator towards children. His new girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) leaves after they have a fight, and he realizes even she doesn’t believe in his innocence. He and Theo are obviously at odds. But Lucas will not lie still and let them brand him as a child molester – something, or someone, must eventually break.
There’s a great change of perspective which happens in terms of how the camera captures Lucas, from before the accusation to after. Early in the film we see him rolling around with the children, very structured and steady shots of their playtime. Then, immediately after the accusation is brought to Lucas, we’re almost right inside his head. He’s standing outside and looks completely in his own world. As soon as a child bumps into him, touching his leg, there’s no longer a happy smile – we’re in a tight handheld shot, staring right at Lucas in the face, and you can feel how psychologically he’s been slammed by the accusation. This technique works so well to really unsettle us as the audience, along with Lucas who is absolutely reeling. This is only one instance of the great cinematography from frequent Vinterberg collaborator Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Submarino, Far From the Madding Crowd).
Even though we’re never given totally subjective moments, accessing the characters and their inner mind, we do get a very strong sense Lucas (Mikkelsen) is innocent. Particularly, after Klara (Wedderkopp) kisses him on the lips, you can really see how uncomfortable Lucas is about the situation. He specifically tells her “kissing on the lips is only for mom and dad“, it is not something appropriate, and even further he refuses the heart she made for him, as it’s not something a child should be giving their teacher (this day and age you can never be too careful). What’s so intriguing, and emotionally draining, is watching Mikkelsen play an innocent man, a man who by all rights would never ever harm a child especially not in such a way, and seeing his friends, the entire community rally against him. It’s actually hard to watch at times, even with nothing graphic being shown onscreen. Just to see Lucas be pushed around by his friends, to watch the looks on their faces change when they see him and how people treat him like vermin, it’s hard.
Part of all this beyond the screenplay is Mikkelsen. He’s got one of those faces which just pulls you in with such incredibly visible emotion. But you can see the pain in Lucas, right across Mikkelsen’s face and in his eyes, the way he moves and holds himself. There are so many scenes in this film alone where you’ll understand it, how Mikkelsen is one of the best actors today. The scenes with his son are wonderful, as well as the only friend who’ll stand by his side in such a time Bruun (Lars Ranthe). These two characters really help add a sympathetic side to Lucas, if you didn’t already find yourself sympathizing with the poor guy. All around, Mikkelsen does a perfect job at displaying the broken humanity in a man who is let down from all angles of his community and society in general.
This is a 5 star film. Whether or not you see the very end as literal or metaphorical, Thomas Vinterberg himself has clearly stated there is no rape at all. The whole thing is fabrication, so those people on the internet trying to determine “Who molested Klara?”, you’re barking up a non-existent tree. This film is first and foremost, and all, about the sad existence of false accusations towards adults who’ve never hurt a child. Plenty out there have tragically hurt children, but a small number end up with false accusations, undue hatred, and being completely ostracized by the people around them when they never did a thing. The Hunt has the guts to face the gale of such a situation, to present us with an unfathomable situation, as well as it demands answers. However, with the ending we’re left to wonder: even if the falsely accused are vindicated, will everyone go back to believing in their innocence, or is the hunt always on from then? Unfortunately, I sometimes find myself believing the latter. In the case of Mikkelsen’s Lucas I’m inclined to see that as a hard, brutal truth.