There are certain films that implore manipulation to get a desired result and yet, despite our best efforts, we fall for it anyways. The Hunt is one of those films. It is difficult not get riled up while watching the film. We essentially become a part of the same reactionary hive mind that the film is warning us against.
The Hunt tells the tale of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a 47 year-old man who works at a local kindergarten. Loved by the children and staff alike, Lucas lives a rather unassuming life in his off hours. Outside of a few outings with his childhood friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), he spends most of his spare time fighting with his ex-wife over visitation rights for his son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom). Unfortunately Lucas’ peaceful life is turned upside down when his boss, Grethe (Susse Wold), brings to his attention that a child has accused him of inappropriate conduct.
Confident that the allegations are false, Lucas assumes that the incident will be sorted out swiftly. However, things spiral out of control when many of the folks in the small village, spearheaded by Grethe’s belief that children do not lie, assume that Lucas is guilty of being a predator. As the tension rises, and more children come forward with claims of abuse, Lucas finds himself alienated within a community that has already passed its judgment without going through due process.
By setting the film within the confines of a small village, director Thomas Vinterberg heightens the sense of paranoia that seeps into the lives of everyone living there. He also makes us lower our own guard while watching the film. As we observe the locals go about vilifying Lucas, we too cast our disapproving gaze upon the villagers’ actions. Vinterberg is astutely aware that there is a good chance we would probably react in a similar fashion if placed in the same shoes as the villagers.
Considering how reactionary our society has become in recent years, we no longer take time to weigh the facts or do a little research for ourselves. It has just become easier to make bold, but sometimes unjustified, statements amongst friends, family and those who follow us on social media. This became very apparent to me a few years ago when a family friend found himself in a similar predicament to the one Lucas deals with in The Hunt. Though the student in this case was much older than the one in the film, the results were eerily similar. It was fascinating to see how quickly certain individuals, despite knowing the “accused” for several years, automatically proclaimed guilt with no real basis to justify their stance.
While Vinterberg, like a skilled puppet master, pulls our strings to get a desired result, he still manages to make both Lucas’ plight and the overall situation resonate in our minds. Vinterberg is constantly aware of the fine line that he is walking with this subject matter. He must not only make us question the victim, but also do so in a way that ensures we are not accusatory to all victims. As one character points out, in these situations, the victim is often speaking the truth.
The thing that makes The Hunt such a devastating film is that there are actually multiple victims at play. Things will never be the same for all involved. The final shot of Lucas in the woods effectively speaks to this. Even when the truth is finally uncovered, there will always be those whose minds will never change. The dangerous ramifications of our reactionary society will always be lingering behind the trees ready to strike.