The inverse of ‘a paradise whose skies were the colour of hell-flames’ with heart shaped sunglasses, vanilla milkshakes and Lolita in the arms of Humbert Humbert is The Hunt, directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
Following the story of a kindergarten teacher who is wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child in his class, this highly sensitive subject is filmed in a minimalist style. A simple lie quickly turns an entire community against Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) during the lead up to Christmas in the close-knit Danish village. The frustration that drives the story stems from Lucas’ failure to reason with people’s emotions and feelings. The brilliance of the script lies in its ability to defend even the most unjust and violent reactions of the naïve villagers towards the seemingly guilty Lucas; although their actions are far from civilised, many would approve of what transpires. Overnight, Lucas is shunned; the villagers believe they are protecting their children from a monster. There is nobody to blame, no bad guy to curse; there is only a misunderstanding that angered and offended every member of the community.
Echoes of the Dogme 95 movement are visible throughout the film, and the simple costume, natural lighting and location shooting allow the audience to focus on acting and character development. Through dramatic irony, viewers become sympathetic towards Lucas as we see how the essential, simple lie is developed. Despite the child, Klara, admitting that she lied several times throughout the film, it is too late to convince her parents, or anybody else, once they have arbitrarily sentenced Lucas. With the efficiency of a domino effect, other parents of Lucas’ students, one by one, began to report signs of sexual abuse in their children. One of the most fascinating elements of the story is the suggestibility of children; somehow they formed a lie in perfect unison, describing Lucas’ house accurately to the colour of his sofa. All except for the one vital detail that can vindicate or damn Lucas.
Due to his dominating physical presence on screen, Mads Mikkelsen often plays the villain, like Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” and Nigel in “The Unnecessary Death of Charlie Countryman”. In The Hunt Vinterberg dresses him down, softening his appearance for the role. Not only does Mikkelsen portray the character as innocent and fragile, but also his performance wonderfully kicks the film to a climax. A cauldron of repressed anger and exasperation, after remaining righteous and stubborn to maintain his place in the community, Lucas finally erupts during a midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
The South Korean film The Crucible (2011) by Hwang Dong-hyuk – based on real events at Gwangju Inhwa School, where faculty members sexually assaulted deaf children during the early 2000s – deals with a similar issue. The minimal punishment received by the teachers implicated in the abuse at Gwangju Inhwa School caused a public outrage and eventually the case was reopened. Protecting children is a collective responsibility in most societies; the villagers’ attitude toward the wrongly accused Lucas is perfectly human, yet we feel heartache for the injustice he suffers. Its deft engagement with both sides of an emotional, visceral issue and the stark human and communal reality that holds through the closing sequence makes The Hunt a remarkable – if not unsettling – movie.