Pedophilia is a very touchy subject. I take it very personally. I’ve seen the effect that it has on children and on parents, and being a parent myself I honestly abhor nothing more than child abuse. I find nothing as repugnant, disgusting and reprehensible than the molestation of an innocent child and so films that touch upon this subject usually spark something almost primal in me.
I want to kill people.
‘The Hunt’ dares to pretty much break every preconceived notion I have towards the subject and dares to make me question everything I think I know and or feel about the subject. No, ‘The Hunt’ does not make me side with pedophilia, that is not what I mean. What I mean is that ‘The Hunt’ dares to question the integrity of a child and the condemning nature of a community stricken by fear of a monster. This is precisely where ‘The Hunt’ soars as a social commentary, because it presents a portrait of humanity that feels extremely authentic and honest; brutally so.
I can’t remember the last time I was this uncomfortable and this frustrated while watching a film.
Thomas Vinterberg’s melodrama from Denmark covers a terrible time in the life of Lucas, a man working at a Kindergarten and going through a rough divorce. While he struggles to see more of his son, Marcus, he gives of himself to all who surround him with love, including the children he supervises at the school. He is a charming and kindhearted man, but when his best friend’s young daughter, Klara, shows him special attention, he does his best to direct her affections elsewhere. This causes a problem, for when Klara gets her feelings wounded she makes some harsh comments that are misconstrued by Grethe, the headmistress at the Kindergarten, and soon Lucas is being accused and practically crucified as a pedophile, despite a jarring lack of evidence and no real accusation made by Klara (outside of an obviously coaxed one). Immediately, Lucas is ostracized. His once welcoming and comforting community has now turned their backs on him and have outright lashed out at him. His best friend has shut him out and his life begins to completely spiral downward.
‘The Hunt’ makes a very bold statement with regards to our reputations; for once they are tarnished they are rarely ever restored completely.
Where ‘The Hunt’ succeeds is in conflicting our emotions in such a unique way. As I mentioned, I find child abuse to be utterly repulsive. I loathe nothing more. This is why ‘The Hunt’ is so frustrating. As the viewer, you know that he is innocent, and so when he is ostracized, condemned and violently mistreated you are frustrated because it feels so unjust, but when you factor in the fact that you are the ONLY one who knows of his innocence, it becomes frustrating in a different way. You realize that you understand and completely agree with his mistreatment. Had you been in the shoes of the community, you’d feel the same way and possibly react in the same manner, and while I wanted to punch Grethe in the face for destroying Lucas’s reputation by taking it upon herself to handle the situation, I almost sympathize with her because, in that situation (she felt betrayed and even partially at fault for possibly allowing something like that to happen on her watch so-to-speak), you may have possibly done the same thing.
‘The Hunt’ also marvelously showcases how panic can spread like a virus in close communities, for once an accusation is made soon it’s being made ten times over.
The one issue I take with the film is the conclusion, although not entirely. In fact, my issue is merely a technicality to be honest and the more I think about it the less it bothers me. Initially, I found the suddenness of the final scenes to feel rushed and not very well thought out. There should have been a few sequences of progression that would have colored in the lines a tad and helped us to accept the surface acceptance that Lucas experiences in the finale.
That being said, the final scene is perfection and further solidifies the themes Vinterberg and Lindholm create here.
The performances by the entire cast are extraordinary. Mad Mikkelsen has been getting some seriously great ink for his very honest portrayal of Lucas, but for me it was Thomas Bo Larsen who stole the whole film. As the conflicted father, broken at the seams at the thought of his very best friend abusing his daughter, I connected to him on a personal level and felt his every shudder. His breakdown at his daughter’s bedside shook me to my core. Annika Wedderkopp is also rather sensational here, delivering a powerfully stirring child performance that feels organic and understanding.
As a whole, ‘The Hunt’ is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on the subject, for it refuses to take a stand on either side of the situation and merely presents it to us in an honest and remarkably astute light.
I give this an easy A, and at the moment I’m even leaning towards an A+ (this year is honestly one of the best in recent memory). Oscar will undoubtedly nominate this in Best Foreign Film, and with ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ ineligible, I have a feeling that this is going to win the gold. Sadly, it won’t rack up mentions elsewhere, even though it really deserves some recognition for Mikkelsen (who has received a few critical mentions) and Larson.