A 2014 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film, Danish drama “The Hunt” goes into very dark territory. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg it tells the story of a man wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. This is usually the set up for a chase thriller in which the accuse must evade the authorities until he proves his innocence, but since the crime is child abuse proving his innocence in the eyes of the law makes no difference in the eyes of the people.
Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a kindergarten teacher who is well liked by his students, has a good group of friends in the community, and the beginning of a relationship with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) an attractive co-worker. He has a son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), from a failed marriage who still wants to be with him despite a tenuous relationship with the ex-wife. It is not an extraordinary life, but things are good.
Everything comes shattering down because of a lie. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is one of Lucas’ kids at the kindergarten and also the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). She is a sweet girl who enjoys walking to her house with Lucas and his dog and grows closer to him when things get tense at home. When she hears her parents arguing, Lucas is there to walk her to school so she starts to see him more as a friend than a teacher. During playtime she kisses him but he quickly tells her only adults do this. She grows resentful and during closing time she tells another teacher Lucas showed her a part of his anatomy she should never see. Klara is able to give a good description, not because Lucas is guilty, but because her older brother showed a clip of Internet pornography at home.
During a tense questioning scene about her accusation, Klara only nods at the questions because she wants it to be over so she can go back outside and play. She is too young to understand the consequences of her actions and from there it goes from bad to worse. Lucas’ fellow educators quickly shun him and inform the parents. They say to look for signs of abuse, such as nightmares. Well of course some of them will have nightmares, they’re kids. Soon Lucas is accused of not one assault but of many and he is arrested.
Throughout all of this no one ever stops and realizes there is not a shred of evidence. It is the word of one girl against one man without a record. When Klara retracts her statement her parents don’t believe her because they think she is afraid or chose to erase the incident from her memory. At one point even Klara is not sure what the truth is anymore because her parents are confusing her. Once an accusation like that is out, there is no going back. Even after the charges are dropped because the other children’s statements make no sense Lucas’ life is still shattered. His son is ostracized, his relationship with Nadja deteriorates, he is assaulted in public, and the townspeople stop short of attacking his house with torches and pitchforks.
Mikkelsen is excellent throughout as a man trying to stay calm while the ground is shifting beneath him. Lasse Fogelstrom is equally good as his best friend, who is conflicted between his love for his daughter and his life-long friendship with Lucas. The look on his face when he realizes he might have made a huge mistake says everything.
Then again can you really blame him? The way everyone reacts in the movie is just as you would expect it to happen in real life. Sexually abusing a child is one of the worst crimes imaginable, so of course it tends to engender a mob mentality when an accusation is brought forward. But should we take children at their word just because they are children? If they are lying, it may ruin an innocent man’s life and have him be alone on Christmas Eve. If they were telling the truth, would you blame a man for beating the abuser?
To drive the point forward, there is a scene where Lucas and Klara are looking at each other, but are separated by a floor covered with lines, which Klara refuses to step on because of an obsessive compulsive habit. “How do we get around these lines,” Lucas wonders?
(“The Hunt” is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)