The Hunt [Jagten] (2012)

Screen shot 2014-01-14 at 1.14.49 PM
Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) using her imagination for more innocent purposes

The Hunt is a tale of mass hysteria. Unlike other cautionary classics such as Arthur Miller’s The CrucibleThe Hunt is written without the convenient clarity of hindsight. The Danish drama challenges its audience to consider their involvement in a paranoid society. I often found myself wondering what I would do in the same circumstances… And honestly, it was hard to find myself among the ‘good guys’ in the film. The story is not alienating, or told from a pedestal. In fact, it is this realistic quality that makes the movie all the more powerful. Taut, emotional and thrilling, The Hunt, in my opinion, is worthy of all accolades – foreign language, or not.

It is winter in Denmark and things are finally going well for the all round good guy, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen). He has just reclaimed custody of his son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), he loves his work as a kindergarten teacher, he has a great group of friends, including his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), and has just started dating his co-worker, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport). Lucas is kind, nurturing and patient. This is particularly evident in his relationship with Theo’s young daughter, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp). Theo and his wife, Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing) are loving, but  neglectful parents. Klara is often left alone. Her parents frequently argue and her brother is too preoccupied with being a teenager (unless he is showing her pornagraphic images as some kind of sick joke). Lucas often walks Klara home, or to kindy, usually with his dog Fanny, whom she loves. Klara has a crush on Lucas, and leaves him a small gift in his coat pocket. One day she joins in on his play with his kindergarten students, but then kisses Lucas on the lips. No one else notices this brief exchange, but Lucas quickly ends the game and takes Klara aside. Klara repeatedly denies that the gift was hers, and is hurt by Lucas’ gentle rejection. One thing leads to another and eventually Klara accuses Lucas of exposing himself to her (using language she has heard her brother use). Grethe (Susse Wold), the owner of the kindergarten, starts an investigation into the matter. All of Lucas’ friends become involved as more children claim that Lucas molested them. Of course, Lucas did nothing of the sort. But mass hysteria engulfs the small town like a wildfire, poisoning Lucas’ relationships with everyone he knows and loves.

Rather than a Salem witch hunt, fuelled by jealousy and malevolence, The Hunt uses sexual abuse as its instigator. This theme forces viewers to confront their involvement in modern day mass hysteria. Sexual abuse isn’t as politically angled as themes such as terrorism, racism or homophobia. Vinterberg utilises a largely universal moral which leaves little grey area for moral ambiguity. Keep in mind that The Hunt doesn’t sympathise with sexual predators. The film questions the objective value of truth and how the truth can easily be manipulated by rumour, false memories and underlying motives. And, as Vinterberg maintains, for some, lies can irreversibly replace the truth. The well-meaning, but rash actions of the townspeople further prove Vinterberg’s contention that people of authority utilise their power to validate the authenticity of “facts”. The Hunt‘s comprehensive criticism of the subjectivity of truth in society is part of what drives this powerful film forward.

The Hunt premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, breaking Denmark’s entrance drought since the 1998 festival, where Festen, a film by Vinterberg, competed. This marked the first film abiding by his and Lars Von Trier’s manifesto – “Dogme 95”.  The avant-garde film movement focuses on realistic representations of life. It achieves this by removing elements such as props, sets, artificial lighting, dubbed sound , superficial action (such as murders etc) and “temporal and geographical alienation”. Although The Hunt doesn’t strictly follow the manifesto, its roots are deep set. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography astutely reflects Lucas’ frame of mind. The warm light and loosely framed shots at the beginning of the film quickly transition to tight close ups with harsh lighting. Perhaps an even greater accomplishment is that most of The Hunt was recorded using a handheld camera. To the manifesto’s credit, the violence in film wasn’t used as a plot device or emotive mechanism. Rather, it was used sparingly, to reflect the atmosphere of the town. As well as this, the lack of “temporal and geographical alienation”, as I touched on before, served a great purpose in generation empathy between the situation and the audience.

As analytical as it is, The Hunt is still packed with restrained emotion. The cast gives a masterclass in exacting frustration. Mads Mikkelsen gave a bold performance. Choosing to stay true to Lucas’ refined nature was refreshing when one expects screaming matches and developing addictions. Mikkelsen was the best anchor one could ask for. All the other characters skillfully poked and prodded Lucas with accusations, violent gestures and means of disregarding him. The plot pushed and pushed Lucas, without turning him into a caricature. It was so skillful, I wish Mikkelsen had a shot at Best Actor on the English-language awards circuit (although he did win Best Actor at Cannes). Annika Wedderkopp’s  Klara contrasted with the other children as her performance was filled with naivety and perhaps, eeriness. As I have mentioned before in my Metroland review, it is, ironically, invigorating to see a film filled with real, naturalistic characters. 

The Hunt offers an accurate and moving analysis on the extremely impressionistic, and instinctive nature of truth. Vinterberg keeps the cast and plot on a short leash, as the film deftly investigates Lucas’ circumstances and the repercussions of it. I left the film feeling thoroughly rattled, yet unafraid to rewatch it. It is a life-like film that isn’t afraid to be unflinching in exploring its disturbing subject matter and the comment it makes on society. The production leaps from strength to strength and  challenges its viewers more than any other story of  mass hysteria I have seen.

The Hunt (2012): 10/10

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