“The Hunt” is a frustrating movie. Not because it’s bad or poorly made but because its subject matter (and the way director Thomas Vinterberg presents it) is so compelling and absorbing that it invokes a strong emotional reaction while you’re watching it. Part way through I caught myself yelling at the screen in complete anger. That usually doesn’t happen during good movies. However, after you’re done watching and you cool down, the movie forces you to reevaluate what’s actually happened logically and objectively.
“The Hunt” is about how minor incidents can be blown out of proportion. It also shows how impressionable young children can be and how much power they can hold in certain situations. More importantly, “The Hunt” is about how these things can create a chain reaction that can practically ruin a person’s reputation and turn them into an outcast. That person is Lucas (Mads Mikkelson) a lonely man who works at the local kindergarten in his small Danish community. One day, there’s a minor incident between Lucas and a kindergartener named Klara (Annika Wedderkop).
Again, this is minor so nothing serious actually happens. But thanks Klara’s stubbornness, her impressionability and a little lie she tells to the head teacher Grethe (Susse Wold) things get out of control. Grethe thinks Lucas has molested Klara and decides to warn the authorities and the other parents. Without even trying to look closer into the situation the parents and community members shun Lucas. He’s fired from the kindergarten, he isn’t allowed to shop at the grocery store, and even his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larson), who also happens to be Klara’s father, threatens him with death at one point.
This is what causes that strong angry reaction. Vinterberg paints Lucas as a good man; we’re on his side. The kids at the kindergarten love him and even though he’s divorced he’s still a good father to his now adolescent son. He didn’t molest Klara (if this is a spoiler to anyone I’m sorry but there’s no real mystery about the incident at hand) and so it’s simply not fair that Lucas is being treated this way. Why are these people not taking a closer look at the situation and are so quick to condemn him? He’s absolutely powerless. This is what I meant when I said how children can hold a lot of power in certain situations. It’s Lucas’ word against the word of an innocent little girl. He hasn’t a chance. So, you can do nothing but sit there, boiling with rage and sadness. “The Hunt” isn’t exactly a pleasant movie to watch.
However, the reason why this movie invokes such a strong response from you is because you’re watching the entire movie unfold from an outsider’s position. You’ve seen the actual incident but the other characters within the film haven’t. You know Lucas is a good man but the others don’t. They’re simply going on either what Klara’s said or what they’ve heard from other people. And this is what causes you to—after you’ve finished watching and have taken a few deep breaths—examine the movie objectively from different angles. Child molestation is a serious issue and there are many instances of actual molestation that go unnoticed and the children are ignored. At first you want to strangle Grethe, for the way she just dismisses Lucas and the way she holds on to the false notion that “children never lie” but you have to look at the situation from her perspective. She’s a kindergarten teacher, it’s her responsibility to watch the kids and make sure they’re safe and so when she sees that something’s wrong with Klara what’s she supposed to do, ignore her? You’re outraged at Theo for how quickly he turns on his best friend but at the same time Klara is his daughter, who’s he supposed believe, her or Lucas?
When the other random members of the community start dishing out hatred and shunning Lucas you want to yell “why are you believing the first thing you hear without giving it a second thought?” but even they can’t be completely faulted. When it comes to child molestation it’s gut instinct to take the side of the child. Furthermore you have to see Lucas from a different perspective as well. He’s a nice, caring non-threatening man who spends a lot of time with young children. In the case of Klara Lucas sort of became a second father to her, someone she can trust. In a lot of real child molestation cases the perpetrators fit Lucas’ profile. People who come off non-threatening and trusting but deep down are sick and twisted. With all of this considered there are no villains in “The Hunt,” just frightened people and people doing what they think is best. The fact that the movie forces you to examine all angles and perspectives in a logical manner is the most fascinating aspect of the picture.
It also benefits from having a strong lead performance. Mikkelson has been in a few American movies (most notably the villain in “Casino Royal) and currently plays the psychopath Hannibal Lector in NBC’s “Hannibal,” and he settles right in to the benevolent and non-threatening role of Lucas. He’s good looking with a full head of medium length blonde hair but he also has a sort of blandness to him that makes him seem like a regular guy. His performance shows a wide range of emotions but isn’t over-the-top and he does a lot of the acting through his facial expressions.
At one point, he gets beat up by employees in a supermarket who tell him he can’t shop there anymore. As he’s limping away, with blood on his face, and with a look of such sadness and defeat on his face (like he’s been pushed to his absolute limit), it’s devastating. Later on, during a Christmas Eve church service he sits on a bench by himself surrounded by the whole town and as he sees them looking at him and whispering to one another he breaks down and causes a scene. It’s easily one of the most moving performances of the year.
Maybe Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm made Lucas too decent of a man. Maybe they should have given him some rough spots so we aren’t completely on his side the whole time, but at this point I’m just nitpicking. Any movie that elicits such a strong initial reaction from you and then forces you to go back and examine it more closely, from multiple angles, is rare. And Vinterberg does it all without any melodrama—everything feels natural-- which is even more of a rarity.