The line that separates us from being our usual selves, working 9 to 5 jobs and being normal (whatever that is) to being a loathed criminal has always been very thin, especially when truth can be easily “adjusted” not only by our perception but also by the influence of urban legend. We can easily say we are free individuals just by sheer luck. Hitchcock played many times with this notion, specially dedicating his film “The Wrong Man” to it, with the presence of that “everyday” good man Henry Fonda playing the wrongly accused common man. In 1988 Fred Schepisi made a splendid ode to the dangers of public opinion over the less interesting truth (A Cry in the Dark) and then Joe Wright made his Oscar-bound Atonement on the grounds that a lie could separate lovers and change lives forever.
Thomas Vinterberg, one of the initiators of that short-lived 90’s movement Dogma95 that established that films should be stripped off of elements that separate the reality of the image from the audience, helms this Foreign-language Oscar-Nominated film that also won its lead actor Mads Mikkelsen a deserving Best Actor award at Cannes. And even if Vinterberg (as well as Von Trier) have long dropped their own rules, they still manage reality in a way few directors know how to, making it so close to our skin that it becomes scary.
The story begins when little Klara, moved by perturbing images of porn videos played by her older brother, and by her natural “attraction” for her teacher Mr. Lucas, lets the principal know that she has seen his private parts at the day care. This fantasy created by the curious Klara is, of course, blown out of proportion. Suddenly, the whole town engages in a secret brotherhood, quietly building a whole profile of Lucas, not even giving him the chance to defend his own truth. In short, the whole town (including his own life-long friends) declares him guilty and ostracizes him as their scapegoat born from a hidden hatred very well engraved in the witch hunt of the past.
Lucas’ life is already shattered to begin with. Passing through a devastating divorce, he is still trying to regain custody of his teenage son while starting a relationship with a “foreign” teacher (it is important the element of the foreign, who lives separated from the town’s local reality). On this note, the fact that a member of society becomes the target of their brutal imagination is a clear image of its own implosion, targeting the sense of community, rendering its cohesive principles as superficial and useless (unless it is to destroy).
The greatest irony comes when little Klara soon understands her responsibility and tells them the truth, but adults have already created a monster and the whole story from beginning to end, and the truth doesn’t fit. She is too young to tell the truth, but a lie that can be imagined by the adult mind is more acceptable.
Of course, the rest of the film shows the quick deterioration of Lucas’ life, something he will hardly recover from.
Vinterberg creates his scenes over simplistic actions, like Lucas walking the little Klara home, and it encompasses a crescendo until it brings us to the “store” scene, where Lucas is beaten up just for wanting to shop in a local supermarket.
The film with its thesis covers all sorts of racism and it sheds a light over our easily manipulated thought process, when we fill in the blanks a truth we don’t know anything about, with our own dark ideas.