Release date: March 25th, 2013
Running time: 115 minutes
Country of origin: Denmark
Original language: Danish (with English subtitles)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm
On my first day of becoming a teacher back in 2006 I was warned of two things by my superiors. Never if I see a student walking along the road into college should I offer them a lift. Even if it’s pouring with rain, snowing or freezing cold; do not let a student in my car. The second was to never be alone with a student in a room with the door closed under any circumstances. My employers told me this for my own sake. They said particularly as a young man, I should be very wary of being alone with female students. It was a very scary introduction to the dangers that teachers face and the threat that can be posed by vengeful students.
The main character in The Hunt, played brilliantly by Mads Mikkelsen, experiences exactly this situation when a jealous little girl shatters his reputation by telling one little lie. A teacher in a primary school, Lucas (Mikkelsen) is accused by Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) of showing her his private parts and from there, the lie takes on a life of its own, completely devastating Lucas’ life and most of his relationships.
It’s a film about the precarious position teachers are in, at the mercy of imaginative children and pitch fork carrying adults. It’s nothing short of a Christmas miracle that as the December depicted in the film descends into paranoia and escalating danger, the media don’t get involved when the hunt for guilt ensues. It’s a frighteningly realistic demonstration of the extreme reactions of ordinary citizens to a perceived spoiling of innocence.
The Hunt shows the devastating result of one little seed of doubt and mistrust being planted in just one person’s mind. Though it’s filled with boys being boys (looking at porn, hunting, drinking, singing) and the consequences of their behaviour, it’s Klara’s little lie and her head teachers nagging doubts about Lucas that cause the most devastating impact. Klara’s desire to join in the boys rough and tumble games leads to her kissing Lucas and it’s from here that seeds of rejection and jealousy begin to grow into something far worse.
What powerful seeds they turn out to be! Doubt is planted in so many heads that it can’t fail to flourish. It spreads like a virus first through the school and then further, finding footholds in the heads of friends, the community and even the people in the local shop. What starts as a foolish little lie quickly becomes a reality in the eyes of the concerned community.
The Hunt considerably lays blame at the naivety of adults. Klara’s parents are quick to believe her lies and to turn their backs on Lucas. They even wrap her in sheets in a desperate attempt to keep her sheltered from the depravity of the outside world, little knowing that her lies stem from a seed planted from within her own house and family.
There’s a powerful sense of jealousy and of missing out that plagues many of the characters. Interrogations happen at play time with the sound of fun outside the classroom window, boys play rough with their teacher but a little girl can’t play her own game with him. Even Lucas and his son’s relationship is defined by their lack of spending time together. Marcus (outstanding newcomer Lasse Fogelstrøm) wants to live with his father and when he turns up in town to support Lucas, there’s a sense that he’s missing the whole community until they turn on him too. Marcus’ actions suggest he wants to be a man and to be accepted into the adult world and the film eventually shows his initiation into this world of macho men hunting in the woods.
The Hunt also touches on family and faith. Lucas is lucky to have the support of his son and his dog, if not his ex-wife. When the community turns on him, including his best friend and his new lover, his family are the ones that stick by him. Their faith is tested and it’s appropriate that when Lucas finally snaps, it’s in a church that he confronts those who have lost the most faith in him.
It’s a steep slope descending into despair for Lucas. Vinterberg’s script never stretches our sympathies. We never question Lucas’ innocence and many might query the motivation for this. However it’s not making Lucas a martyr like figure at the expense of the other characters. Even the little girl at the centre of the storm is confused and sympathetic, a victim of terrified and disgusted parents. The speed at which they choose to judge their good friend Lucas is worryingly fast and utterly believable but Lucas is the real innocent victim here.
In fact, audiences may find themselves despairing over Lucas’ inability to fight his corner. He’s a little too quick to throw one character out of his life and fails to argue his case in a convincing manner when compared with his own son. Marcus gets a standout scene when he confronts his community; shouting, swearing and fighting with his father’s old friends over their lack of trust. It’s a powerful scene that makes us root for Marcus, another innocent victim of the story, even more so than for his father. A teacher should probably be quicker to protest his innocence with a more passionate response to the accusations.
However Mads Mikkelsen brings a virtuous integrity to the role, his popular and fun teacher giving way to a reserved and wounded man losing trust in those around him. His character’s arc is compelling and flawlessly written creating a compassionate, caring individual that is forced to show his cracks.
The cinematography is outstanding with the autumnal forest scenes being filled with awe-inspiring beauty. The brown leaves, impressive deer and golden light of sunset are captured in all their breathtaking beauty, only spoiled by the gunshots and hunters.
The ending is devastating. It could have been far worse but the implications of the final shot bring the reality of what looked like a potentially happy ending crashing back to earth. This is a man changed forever in the eyes of others and this hunt and many others like it will continue. Teachers are under constant threat from these kinds of accusations and their reputation, career and whole lives can be torn to shreds if they are the unlucky prey of a false claim. Sometimes we must be far more careful to ensure that moral panics don’t create more innocent victims than just the children.
Peter is a film and media lecturer and currently writing his PhD thesis on found footage horror movies. This means he must endure all sorts of cinema’s worst drivel in the name of academia. If that wasn’t punishing enough, Peter enjoys watching films with brutal violence, depressing themes and a healthy splash of tragedy.
If Peter isn’t watching films, he is writing about them, talking about them or daydreaming about them. He regularly contributes to Media Magazine and a range of film websites. You can find his film blog at www.ilovethatfilm.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @ilovethatfilm.