“It’s always assumed that children tell the truth. And unfortunately, very often they do.”
These two sentences are the central, terrifying theme of the Danish film, The Hunt. They are spoken midway through the picture, long after we, the audience, know the truth. Long after characters’ lives have been damaged due to fractured truth and irrevocable heresy. They are spoken after we know so much, yet have no idea what’s coming.
But Klara feels slighted. And, like many neglected 5-year-olds, Klara lies for the sake of lying. But this lie is no prank. It’s a lie that, once spoken, has the power to quickly ruin lives. It has the power to haunt a man forever, truth be damned.
After Klara tells a school official that Lucas showed himself to her (you know… showed himself), Klara’s claims take on a snowball affect that sends the entire town into a frenzy, the extent of which, I dare not reveal.
From here, The Hunt turns into a grueling tale of a life fractured. The entire time I watched this film, I was reminded how easily most any man could fall victim to Klara’s claims. Once such words are spoken, how is a man like Lucas supposed to free himself? Even if his innocence is affirmed, he’ll always be that guy. That guy who might have molested the children (yes, the charges against Lucas soon become plural) of a small town. That guy who will always be whispered about. That guy who did that thing.
But there’s another, arguably more mortifying side to The Hunt, and that is director Thomas Vinterberg’s vicious attack on society. What does it say of us when we are so quick to judge? But, on the flip side, how can we not judge a man accused of such horrible things? It’s an impossibly frustrating dichotomy, one that forces you to acknowledge the intentions of everyone involved. There were times when I was furious at Lucas. I didn’t like his modest stance on his own innocence, or the way he harshly treated the few people who still believed in him. But then I tried to put myself in his shoes; and hell, how can I possibly gauge how I’d react?
Mads Mikkelsen is a talented actor who, despite exceptional turns in After the Wedding, Valhalla Rising and The Royal Affair, is still best known for smashing Daniel Craig’s balls in Casino Royale. Mikkelsen won Best Actor at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for his work in The Hunt, and it is obvious why. Although I often found myself frustrated by Lucas’ actions, I wanted nothing more than to follow him. I wanted to look him in the eye and say, “You’re still a man, you’ll get through this,” even if I didn’t know it to be true.
Midway through the movie, the most peculiar thing happened. With two sharp lines of dialogue (which, incidentally, are spoken in the same speech I quoted at the beginning of this review), I found myself questioning my beliefs. For the briefest of moments, I switched to the other side and thought, “Oh, shit… what if these kids are telling the truth?” The scene occurs as Lucas’ best friend describes to Marcus what the kids are saying about Lucas. “Apparently, all the children are telling the same story. They describe your basement, the wallpaper, the color of the sofa.”
If I was able to see myself at that exact moment, I’m sure my expression mirrored Marcus’, which was one of puzzlement and fear. What Marcus said next utterly floored me. That’s power. A