Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt places a decent man in a very indecent situation: He is accused of flashing, and possibly molesting, a young girl of about 7. This is taboo, clearly. In any society. But we are told very plainly from the outset that this accusation is false, that the girl, named Karla (Annika Wedderkopp), fabricates the story in a brief moment of anger, after her sweet little gift is rejected by the man. Being a kid of course has its privileges, and one of them is that adults never think they’re lying, not even when the accused is the girl’s dad’s best friend.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, the man in question. He’s a charming fellow, once a member of the local school, now one of the caretakers in the local nursery. He lives alone (his ex-wife and son have moved out), and spends most of his days either at work or hunting with his band of merry friends. The movie opens with them daring each other to swim naked in the lake. This is made all the more challenging with the advent of winter and the first snow. Oh they’re happy alright. Vinterberg paints such a picture as to make us envious of such fellowship. At night they gather together to laugh and drink and sing, as if reliving old Viking folk tales. It’s hard to imagine that any tragedy could tear them asunder.
But children will be children, and Karla’s little innocent story soon spreads and becomes a viral infection that seeks to corrode the inner morality of Lucas. He is kicked out of the nursery, betrayed by his friends, and warned never return to the local grocery store. If he does, the butcher will be there with his axe and hammer. His entire town, which is somewhere in rural Denmark, turns its back on him, leaving him with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, save for his son Marcus, and his good friend Bruun (Lars Ranthe).
This story, which is grim beyond all measure but maintains a certain level of class and levity, works the way it does chiefly because it takes place in this rural town. It wouldn’t have worked if New York was the backdrop, or Beijing, or Manila, or Johannesburg. It exists in this tightly-knit town where everybody knows each other by name, where the bond between childhood friends is strong to a point, and where the recreational hunting between men becomes an underlying rite of passage and an omen against breaking the codes of humanity. The town is so familiar that one act of sexual abuse, against a minor no less, is enough to warrant a full scale exclusion. The “crime” is centralised and contained.
Mikkelsen is perhaps not the expected choice to play Lucas, but he is the right one, and I particularly enjoyed the numerous little twitches and smirks his face delivers at moments of scorn or disbelief. I guess you could you say it’s a nuanced performance, but many people take the term “nuanced” lightly. It’s commonly applied to characters who inhabit a story that relies on its strong screenplay and dialogue to work, instead of looking to grand visual effects and outlandish plot developments. No one would call Shia LaBeouf in Transformers “nuanced”. But yes, in this instance, in this story, faced with this ridiculous charge, Mikkelsen is. And to his benefit, he’s surrounded by a cast of actors who tackle their difficult roles with courage. His son Marcus, played by Lasse Fogelstrøm, is a loyal, hot-headed young chap, who prefers his father’s company to his mother’s, and strongly believes in his father’s innocence. His scene at Theo’s residence is altogether brutal and understandable. Not sure about the spitting though.
Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) is Lucas’ best friend and father to Karla, and he has the toughest job of tweaking his performance to befit both an outraged father as well as a friend who has perhaps seen his entire childhood flash before his eyes and die in a pool of his own disbelief. I cannot imagine the situation, but maybe the parents who read this can: What would you do if your daughter came to you and told you that your best friend had just touched her inappropriately? Who would you believe? I’m inclined to go with the child, and therein lies Lucas’ biggest adversary. The child says something, maybe as a mistake, but it’s grave, and the consequences are dire. No man, or woman for that matter, would ever stand a chance. Even if the courts prove you innocent, as in this movie, you have already been tainted. And because the town is as tight as my old pair of jeans, there is nowhere to hide.
Thomas Vinterberg, who made The Celebration under the infamous Dogme rules of the ’90s, employs some of the same thematic, narrative, and stylistic devices as his most recognised work. Both movies deal with sexual abuse, and ultimately end in the isolation of the accused. While I thoroughly enjoyed the rough, cutting edge camerawork and tone of The Celebration, I much preferred the slightly sleeker cinematography here. It’s not intrusive; it merely records what the actors are playing out, and that is precisely what needs to happen in a movie like this. Push style to the background and highlight the anguish and confusion of the people. The movie, after all, is about people, and the way they can turn into animals at the flip of a switch, much like the deer they all hunt.
Best Moment | So many parts. Really, there are a tonne of good moments in this movie.
Worst Moment | Nope.