People always work on the presumption that children are telling the truth. Why is this? Are we so ready to believe that our kids have no idea of what constitutes right and wrong? Do we actually believe that anger, jealousy, vanity and everything we consider a sin are borne out of our experiences in puberty? If so, that’s hilarious!
The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg’s taut and magnificently-acted thriller is a movie that takes on this idea head on. It’s about how an innocent man’s life is destroyed after a little white lie perpetuated by a supposed innocent is taken as fact. It’s a seething examination of the psychology behind mob mentality.
Mads Mikkelsen * plays Lucas, a charming but reserved divorcee who works as an assistant at a kindergarten in a Danish hamlet. He has a tight-knit group of friends who he hangs out on the weekends with, he’s just started dating a beautiful new colleague, and he’s finally received custody of his teenage Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) who absolutely adores him.
But then Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the six-year-old daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), and one of the children at the kindergarten he works at, accuses him of sexually molesting her. It’s a decision provoked out of jealousy and anger after Lucas refuses her innocent advances. Klara’s cry for attention is taken as fact, and Lucas’ kindergarten supervisors take this accusation as fact. You see, to these dolts, a child’s mind is pristine – akin to calm Hindu cows – sans sin. They attack Lucas immediately and although he denies it, his shy, stoic nature is misunderstood by his colleagues as guilt.
As the lie ravages the town like an infectious disease, the kindergarten’s other children, not content to be the only ones in class not touched by Lucas, also accuse him of molesting them. Soon, even his girlfriend starts to believe the lies. Eventually, he loses his job, his friends, receives death threats, and becomes a pariah to the point where even a trip to the local grocery is akin to playing hopscotch in a mine field.
Mikkelsen, who rightly won the Best Actor award at Cannes, gives a blistering performance of quiet intensity. He plays Lucas as a just man who believes that justice will be served and everyone around him shares his values. But his naivety does more to hurt his reputation in town than help it. The way Mikkelsen portrays Lucas – as a quiet man slowly burning up inside is fascinating. He may not show it in his face, but his eyes do all the talking. Although he is best known for playing the villain in Casino Royale, the Danish actor’s repute has been building steadily with his strong performances in films like the Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair and NBC’s Hannibal. He’s a face to keep an eye for.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Hunt is the way Vinterberg approaches this story. He makes it known right from the on-set that this isn’t a mystery or a melodrama. Lucas’ guilt is never in question nor does he manipulate you to “feel” for him. This film is at its heart, about society’s rabid readiness to accept misinformation as truth, without an iota of research.
Take Michael Jackson for example. Here was an entertainer, universally identified as a weirdo who never fit the conventions of society. When he was accused of molesting a child, his public persona was forever tarnished. Even after he was publically cleared on all charges, he remained a pariah; a creep who didn’t deserve to live. We were ready to brand him not because of his guilt, but because the idea of him being a molester fit right in with our perception of him – a weirdo. Sometimes, people are so ready to believe fiction as truth that when they learn the reality of the situation, they’re unwilling to accept it because doing so would be admitting their guilt. And let’s face it… no one likes to admit fault. The Hunt consummately proves this, and for that, I applaud it.
*Mads Mikkelsen is pronounced “Mass Meguelsnn”