Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas.
January 15, 2013
It seems questioning morality in the movies is the new 'in' thing. Lately I've been defending Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty in the wake of their individual controversies, and now comes Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, which has put me through the ethical ringer like no other recent release. It features Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, a kindly Danish kindergarten teacher accused of molesting a young student. Rather than this being a human - but still indicting - depiction of a tortured paedophile (as was expertly achieved in Happiness), it takes the unusual approach of positioning us against the child accuser, who we learn early on is lying about being abused. What is Vinterberg's endgame here? Though not readily apparent - and mighty questionable at first - it is indeed revealed to be a moral one. You just have to get over some intimidating hurdles to find it.
The adults in this small community immediately take young Klara's (Annika Wedderkopp) side. More allegations are eventually levelled at Lucas simply because parents notice rape symptoms such as "nausea" and "nightmares" cropping up amongst their own offspring. We know he's innocent, and we want him to clear his name. Thus, The Hunt seems to be in the business of demonising a child. Our antagonist is a lying little girl. Are we being warned of the evil in children, even though adults are more inclined - and equipped - to maliciously craft an untruth? What's the use in that?
Annika Wedderkopp as Klara.
Though we should always wonder why a filmmaker tells a certain story, it's not often advised that critics step in and say "They should have told this story, instead!" (If only because it would expose our own inabilities to adequately make the movies we often criticise.) Yet, why this story? Is it worth planting seeds of doubt in an audience's mind against the little victims of adult crimes simply to serve a unique twist? Had Dogme 95 icon Vinterberg's picture carried on in the manner I had initially suspected, we would have a very exploitative product on our hands. Instead, as it evolves over its running time, it reveals itself to be rather impressively crafted, and not nearly as hysterical as I originally feared.
Mikkelsen and Wedderkopp are superb, and writers Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm are smart to not paint the former as a martyr, the latter as a villain, or the both of them as mortal enemies. The surrounding, accusatory adults are also grounded. How can we not see the situation from their eyes too? The ending of the film is a hopeful one, suggesting that people in the unlikeliest of situations can reconcile and carry on with their lives. I don't know if that's necessarily true, but it's a nice thought. And ultimately it answers my main questions of morality. Vinterberg finds a story that takes us to the edge of trust and compassion, and triggers innate, gut-churning dread. How well do we know our friends, husbands, wives? Could we ever forgive them for their crimes, or believe their claims of innocence? What if it happened to us, or worse, our children? Humans do terrible things to one another. In The Hunt, Vinterberg believes we can do right too.
The Hunt will be available on Quickflix from September 4, 2013.