“Then you can have a kick in the butt”
I used to just walk outside the house and play with the neighborhood children in the street when I was young. We’d go anywhere we liked in this idyllic environment of safe trespass amongst unknown adults and kids along the way. So, it’s still difficult to imagine how we could be living in a completely different world only two decades later where “stranger danger” is no longer reserved for strangers. Now we fear our neighbors, family, and friends in an unfathomable cycle wherein we keep things close to our vests to prevent treason on our already tenuous relationships. We refuse to open up and find the lack of trust we hoped to avoid simply because of our avoidance. And unspeakable horrors happen just the same in irrevocable ways.
The transparency of the twenty-first century allows one word to spread like wildfire, reaching the opposite end of the globe in seconds. All it takes is one rumor—one question of integrity—to destroy the most impeccable, loving, compassionate, and charitable soul we know. Because the fear bred from watching tragedy after tragedy play out on television never goes away. It lingers as our attitude towards percentages evolves from, “Oh, but it won’t happen to us” to “We’re next”. We’ll turn on our own mother or father at the drop of a hat because we know the evil outside our bedroom doors. We’ve seen it. So when a young child’s anger and frustration creates a lie of which he/she cannot begin to understand the consequences, we can’t help but wrap them in our arms while that fear turns to hate.
This is the setting of Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-nominated film Jagten [The Hunt]—a sleepy town not unlike our own full of frivolity and comradery as boys grow into men to start their own families and watch as the cycle continues another generation or more. There’s best friends like Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) and Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), thicker than thieves with keys to each other’s house and a history that could stand up to anything. A Kindergarten teacher trying to survive a messy divorce and his biggest supporter; a man who sees the other’s marital strife scaring their little girl Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) and deciding to step in to help. Lucas is a pillar of the community they all cherish who willfully holds the girl’s hand as they walk to school avoiding every crack in the pavement at their feet.
And then come the misunderstanding, the necessary over-reaction, and the unfortunate witch-hunt after preconceptions commence a snowball effect of vitriol that epitomizes the very definition of mob mentality. Just as Lucas’ luck changes to find love with his coworker Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) and a call from his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) about wanting to live with him permanently, that innocent young girl finds herself jumbling thoughts as she lashes out against the rebuke of the one person who took an interest in her. Lucas is Klara’s knight in shining armor when she gets lost or scared due to her parents absently forgetting her, a friend her six-year old mind sees as worthy of a Valentine and a kiss. So when he calmly explains such things are inappropriate, her disappointment turns from embarrassment to accusation.
What follows is everyone’s worst nightmare. I’m not just talking about what happens to Lucas after he loses everything he’s spent a lifetime building because Klara was confused, but also his boss Grethe (Susse Wold) for being stuck in an impossible position necessitating her choosing a side as well as Theo and his wife Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing) rallying behind a daughter they have to believe might have been molested. Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm crafted an epic morality play where fear ravages each and every character they’ve drawn. How would you respond? Could you step back and objectively listen to Lucas’ side after hearing the words exiting your daughter’s mouth? Even if you know she’s prone to exaggeration and lies, could you live with yourself if you ignored the possibility she spoke told the truth?
The Hunt will give you chills as its suspense crescendos to unbearable heights. As Lucas’ life gets dismantled so too does the humanity of those who’ve written him off. His friends devolve into uncompassionate vehicles of abuse, remorselessly turning on him whether evidence backs their sentiments up or not. Theo wrestles the notion that he knows Lucas never would or could do what Klara says against his duty as a father to protect her. A handful of words strung together by a Kindergartener simply repeating what her brother said in a lapse of teenage judgment destroy any semblance of innocence this community thought they possessed. And we know in our hearts—like them—that no measure of vindication can ever allow things to go back the way they were.
It’s a clinic of cinematic tension as the unpredictability of all involved leaves a heavy cloud of uncertainty and violence above each scene. Whether at Christmas mass, the supermarket, or hunting in the woods, mankind’s embrace of evil has us fearing the end despite already knowing “happy” isn’t in the cards. And all the while we watch as Mikkelsen falls apart internally behind a wavering, tearful façade of restraint and isolation; Larsen steadily reconciling his haste in casting guilt with his need to be a father; and tiny Wedderkopp struggling with what she’s done so authentically that Vinterberg deserves a write-in Best Director vote for somehow pulling it out of her. The list of stunning performances is infinite, though, with Wold’s anxiety, Fogelstrøm’s teenage anger, and Lars Ranthe’s optimism as Lucas’ stalwart confidant.
Powerful doesn’t do it justice and yet that’s the word coming to mind. When I look back at how many impossible situations are presented with unforgivable actions, I can’t help but give everyone a pass. No one can think straight in these circumstances; one can only hope cooler heads will prevail to weigh every side in search of the truth. As we see in the news right now with the tragic controversy surrounding Woody Allen and his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, this isn’t some horror made up for the movies to make us feel, debate, or contemplate humanity against hypothetical “what ifs”. This is our world. This is the nightmare we face; the aforementioned fear not of “could it happen” but “when”. Innocent until proven guilty may still work in court, but those sentiments are empty at home.
 Mads Mikkelsen in THE HUNT, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Charlotte Bruus-Christensen.
 Mads Mikkelsen and Alexandra Rapaport in THE HUNT, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Per Arnesen
 Susse Wold, Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen and Lasse Fogelstrøm in THE HUNT, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Per Arnesen