Former Dogme 95 founder Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘The Hunt’ reaffirms the importance of the truth through its poignant depiction of undeserved suffering. Starring as Lucas, Mads Mikkelsen lights up the screen with his injection of raw emotion and undeniable humanity, capturing our attention and gaining our sympathy at every possible turn. MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS
After being falsely accused of child abuse by Klara (a young girl Lucas looks after in and outside of the nursery where he works), Lucas begins to fall into complete isolation. At first his friends attempt to support him in the face of adversity, but this becomes a lost cause once Klara’s (Annika Wedderkopp) story is fleshed out and various other children Lucas works with claim to have experienced symptoms of post-abuse trauma, such as nightmares.
In the midst of all this, Lucas finds hope in Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), his new partner. Despite the accusations, she sees him as an honest man incapable of child abuse. This is the light that guides Lucas, his saving grace during a time when his dignity and morality are slipping away from him. Tragically, however, Nadja starts to experience feelings of doubt as Klara’s horror story refuses to be acknowledged as fiction by everyone Lucas knows. When she chooses to question Lucas directly, we witness his last shred of salvation disappear: from a place of gut-wrenching betrayal and pride he refuses to dignify Nadja’s question with an answer, forcing her to leave his house. This sets in motion a richly complex narrative that compels the audience to wonder how, if at all, Lucas will set the record straight.
The major events that ensue can be described as various testimonies against Lucas. The most remarkable of which occurring when he travels to his local supermarket. In typical fashion, the camera focuses centrally on Lucas’ facial expressions, placing the environment as a secondary element of the scene. Through this observational style of filmmaking, the audience gains a unique insight into Lucas’ inner turmoil that those who view him as guilty are unable to see. This can be described as a form of dramatic irony that operates throughout the film, and acts to emphasis the tragic nature of the situation.
The intensity of the scene quickly increases when Lucas reaches the checkout till: he is turned away by the store owner, refuses to leave and is subsequently beaten up by several different employees. This unprovoked act of brutality presents Lucas as vulnerable and therefore suggests that redemption is becoming less and less likely for him. Moments later, however, Lucas enters the store, assaults the manager and asserts himself as the dominant male figure. Following this, he is allowed to pay for his food without difficulty. This sudden transformation foreshadows the film’s ending by implying that Lucas has the power to save himself. Prior to this scene, there was virtually no sign that he could control his own fate. This may be an implicit reading, however it still stands that his actions represent a fundamental shift in his attitude and therefore the film’s possible resolution.
The culmination of Lucas’ suffering takes place in church, emphasising the film’s central theme of redemption. After enduring hateful looks from everyone in sight, he takes a seat alone at the front of the room. As the ceremony begins, Lucas turns to look directly at Torsten (Sebastian Bull Sarning), Klara’s father and his former best friend. They maintain eye contact for what feels like an eternity, and through this we are given an overwhelmingly strong sense of their personal conflict. As everything else fades away, their pain reaches an unbearable climax, causing Lucas to rush towards Torsten, grab him and shout: “Look at me! You see nothing.” This aggressive yet touching attempt to prove he is innocent resonates with Torsten in a way that nothing has previously, as is evidenced by their reconciliation at the end of the film. Although the exact nature of this public plea is difficult to express, it feels to me that Lucas is sharing his soul with Torsten to remind him of his essential human kindness.
At the very end of the film, Lucas embarks on a hunting trip. As he is standing in the woods waiting for the right moment to take down his prey, he is suddenly shot at. This narrative shock is jarring, especially considering the context in which it takes place: he has proven himself innocent, and yet here he is having to fight for his life. This juxtaposition reminds us that this film deals in shades of gray and seeks to represent life as accurately as possible. Perhaps a typical Hollywood film would end with Lucas finding complete peace of mind, but the reality of the situation is that his reputation is irreversibly damaged.
In conclusion, The Hunt is a stunning example of realist Danish cinema that pulls us in with its virtually unsolvable problem and releases us with an ending that is both cathartic and tragic. The exact response this ending may trigger in audience members is impossible to determine, however it is without question a refreshing experience to watch a film that refuses to undermine its own integrity by providing us all with a convenient and comfortable resolution.
IMDB rating: 8.3
My rating: 9