Nobody likes to be accused of something they did not do. Whether a little white lie or a life-altering allegation, the repercussions can be difficult to deal with, to say the least.
In The Hunt – a new, highly-acclaimed Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen – a mild-mannered, recently divorced school teacher’s life is shattered by accusations of sexual abuse against a child. The small, intimate community he lives in is shattered by the allegations and even his closest friends (save one) immediately turn on him.
Lucas lives alone since his wife and teenage son moved out. He used to work at the local high school, but now helps out at a kindergarten. No reason is ever given for either of these substantial life changes, but both have left him alone and vulnerable. Lucas is a bit lost as he attempts to rebuild his life, but things are slowly beginning to pick up for him, including a new girlfriend and his son may be coming to stay with him.
His best friend, Theo, lives just down the street and his daughter, Klara, has developed a bit of a crush on Lucas. He walks her to school occasionally and is exceedingly sweet to her, giving her attention when her parents are fighting. She develops a fairly typical little girl crush on him. She gives him presents and tries to kiss him, so Lucas does his best let her down gently and turn her affections elsewhere. Like most people would be (especially a child), she is hurt and confused, so she tells a little white lie based on her misguided and naïve perception of adults and sex.
It is crushing to watch this innocent, angel-faced five year old little girl tell this lie, but it is even worse to see the adults goad her into it and immediately presume Lucas’ guilt. It is even more agonizing to see their dismissive reaction when she eventually recants her story later. Lucas has already been convicted in the court of public opinion and there is nothing he can do stop that runaway train.
Though well-liked and respected in the community, the lie spreads like wildfire from teachers to parents to neighbors and Lucas is immediately ostracized. You can understand their panic because of the extreme seriousness of the accusation, but he is never even allowed to defend himself. The situation soon evolves into a modern day witch hunt. Several more children supposedly “show symptoms of abuse” and the situation spirals out of Lucas’ control and comprehension. The rest of the film unravels in a series of maddening, yet completely understandable humanistic reactions on both sides.
From the get go, you know it is all a lie, but can you really be sure? Why would this sweet little girl lie? These are the type of questions one might ask themselves if faced with this situation in real life. But are the filmmakers playing a trick on the audience? Mikkelson’s notoriety in the U.S. in mainly villainous roles (Casino Royale, TV’s Hannibal) does not help either.
The film plays with the audience’s emotions, fears, and doubts for a time, but it should be no surprise that Lucas is innocent. In a way, that is what the film is about. The audience knows he is innocent, yet you still cannot help but harbor a little bit of doubt in the back of your mind for the very same reasons as everyone in the film, who are not privy to what the audience knows and is so ready to convict him.
Able to display so much with just a look or a stare, Mikkelson gives an incredibly powerful and emotional performance as a man beset on all sides. He is a good man, far better than most, and even with his back is against the wall, he is still amazingly able to keep his pride and indelible sense of right and wrong. Annika Wedderkopp, as the young Klara, also turns in a wonderfully affecting performance – as does Thomas Bo Larsen, who plays her distraught and torn father.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt is a harrowing moviegoing experience about a community spiraling out of control in a web of misinterpretation and doubt. Anchored by strong performances and skillful direction, the film is thought-provoking examination of lies, fear, forgiveness, and one man’s admirable resolve.
* * * * out of 5 stars
The Hunt opens Friday, August 16 at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center – playing 7:00 p.m. nightly (except at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday and 5:30 p.m. on Monday).
So come out to the Zeitgeist (1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. New Orleans) this weekend and take advantage of this unique film-going experience and all the Zeitgeist Arts Center has to offer. And by doing so, help support one the premier alternative arts center in the South.
You can visit the Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center’s website here.
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