In the new Danish film “The Hunt,” Mads Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten teacher named Lucas who is wrongfully accused of sexually abusing the students. What begins as an offhand comment by Klara, a little girl whose feelings are hurt by his perceived rejection of her affection, soon escalates into the proverbial witch hunt, made worse by the fact that the people in charge believe that they are doing what is necessary to protect the children - always remember what paves the road to hell…. Despite the numerous times when viewers are hard pressed to understand why Lucas, a demonstrably sensitive man, can’t instantly guess which child made the accusation and why, the charges take on a life of their own, gaining in intensity that we are forced to accept as a given. Lucas’ life takes a nightmarish turn as he is dismissed from his job, alienated by his colleagues and most of his friends and considered a degenerate pariah by the entire community. His personal life is thrown into turmoil as his teenage son leaves the mother who is divorced from Lucas and comes to live with him , attempting to defend him and putting himself in harm’s way in so doing. Eventually, Lucas descends into a personal breakdown, confronting the father of the young accuser in church on Christmas eve. This symbolically crucified man does not turn the other cheek.
One year later, we learn that the mass hysteria is understood to be a lie as the children claim to have been in Lucas’ basement in a house that has none. We see Lucas restored to amity with his friends, the forlorn little accuser, the community and even the girlfriend whom Lucas discarded when faced with even a hint of her doubts. At first, I thought that this was the fantasy of a ruined man but the director turns out to be a moralist who wants us to believe that the rituals of hunting which are intrinsic to the community culture have a link of causality with the events of Lucas’ downfall. Unfortunately, this metaphor is too thin to be sustainable. One could make a better argument that mass hysteria has periodically been induced by religious beliefs and political movements that have scapegoated various groups throughout history. One could also argue that peer pressure and mob psychology are better explanations for understanding the willingness of children to acquiesce in lying about experiences they never had. Most significant is the danger of adult manipulation of children which can be expanded to the notion of government manipulation of populations to ensure willingness to conform to outlandish perverted behavior - as in Nazi Germany at its most extreme. Any of these analogies would have yielded a deeper understanding of how an innocent man can be destroyed by his friends whereas the reference to killing innocent animals remains superficial and feels tacked on. After having created a disturbing portrait of how quickly and easily moral disintegration can spread, the director leaves us with a cliche that has been overused cinematically and is far too general to yield thoughtful or conclusive resonance.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here