When teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, Valhalla Rising) is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a child he finds his whole life start to unravel. He loses his friends, his job, and ultimately becomes a pariah in his own community.
The Hunt is an emotionally hard-hitting drama from Denmark. The narrative follows the story of a teacher accused of paedophilia and the effects that it has on his life. Director Thomas Vinerberg keeps the camera close ensuring that The Hunt plays out as a taught character piece.
The opening sequence is in stark contrast to the darker turns that the story takes as the film progresses. We’re first introduced to Lucas in a convincing musical opening scene. Lucas and his adult friends are skinny-dipping and there is much nudity on display. This is important, as the freedom implied here doesn’t exist throughout the narrative. Instead we’re very quickly forced into a place where innocence ceases to exist.
The setting is suburban and the school is a place where Lucas is loved and well respected. The children love him and they routinely jump on him and wrestle with him. Once more this is a deliberate stylistic choice as the allegations of sexual impropriety ensure that Lucas ends up very much alone. The opening act establishes the character of Lucas as carefree, caring, and above all good at his job.
A child’s lie
This perfect world doesn’t survive a child’s lie however. The trick of the narrative choices in The Hunt is the fact that we know that Lucas is innocent. We’re never exposed to anything close to doubt and instead we’re firmly on his side, as one by one his friends and family effectively disown him.
The opening scenes then are reminders that Lucas is a trusted man, a well-respected member of his community, and a man with a wide circle of friends. His lifestyle is sophisticated, he’s a community man, and he’s single. All of these positive traits become negative ones however when Lucas’s context changes drastically. The opening act is immersive and it succeeds primarily because it humanises Lucas and makes him extremely likable.
Lucas is a developed and interesting character
Lucas is a fully formed character, more than the sum of his job, and ultimately a caring man. His best friend’s daughter Klara is a young girl that gets routinely lost and Lucas often has to help her get home. They often walk Lucas’s dog Fanny together and it’s a sweet and ultimately impotent relationship. However Klara has a vivid imagination and one day she tells the head teacher at her school that Lucas exposed himself to her. This prompts an investigation that quickly becomes a witch-hunt.
Thematically it becomes a film about lying. Klara’s lie is taken further and further and once the seed of doubt is sown it becomes virtually impossible to clear Lucas of the charges. Klara is a little girl that fell in love with Lucas and it’s clearly an emotion that she is too young to deal with. She’s jilted, spurned, and hopelessly naïve and her lies destroy a man’s life.
This is the question that the film poses and it never really provides an answer for. There are a lot of moments that revolve around the idea that a child couldn’t lie but the overarching plot shows just how dangerous that assumption can be. The dangers of finger pointing are explored and taken to their logical conclusion – the shattering of a man’s reality.
Unwelcome in the supermarket
Lucas becomes ostracized from the centre of a loving community, exiled, and abused. He is no longer welcome in the local shops, he isn’t allowed to visit his friends, and collectively everyone turns their backs on him. It’s a lonely world to begin with but Lucas finds it can become even colder, and that there are far worse things than just being alone.The sense of community that he enjoyed becomes something exclusive. But there is a silver lining, one ray of hope and that comes in the form of Lucas’s young son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm). His son moves in with Lucas and quickly becomes our mouthpiece. Marcus is our representative, his actions reflect our impotent rage but unfortunately Marcus is just as impotent as the rest of us.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of The Hunt is the fact that all of the brutality meted out on Lucas is delivered by his once best friends. They torment the anguished man and torture him psychologically for something that he didn’t do. This is a film with a pronounced downward arc and it leaves you with the desire for one moment of redemption, one redeeming moment that will show everyone that Lucas isn’t the monster they think him to be.
Unfortunately that’s not the point of The Hunt and instead we’re just bystanders. We can’t get involved and really the film offers one piece of advice – don’t lie. We never get to hear Lucas tell his side of the story and it appears that no one in his small community gets that opportunity either. Instead Lucas becomes a man hounded, bullied, and tormented in his own home.
The Hunt is a film that never feels quite resolved and its not supposed to. Just like in real life once something is said it can’t always be taken back. It’s a gripping film and one that inspires in the viewer a strong sense that the truth should out.