Being a male primary school teacher must be a difficult job these days. You would have to have an extremely thick skin to be able to handle the whispers and gossip that invariably goes around a community. “Can we trust him with our children?” “Why isn’t he teaching older children?” And if the teacher is unmarried or divorced, the chatter can only grow larger and more malevolent, especially when the teacher is accused of sexual misconduct. That’s what the Danish film, THE HUNT (or JAGTEN, in Danish) is about.
High school teacher Lucas is forced to take a job at a local kindergarten when the school where his teenage son attends closes due to budget cutbacks. He is slowly getting his life back together after his bitter divorce. He has begun a relationship with a colleague at the kindergarten, and he is committed to getting joint custody of his son. He has a good group of friends in his small Danish community, and now he gets to teach some of his friends’ young children. But Lucas’ life takes a drastic turn when one of his little charges falsely accuses him of sexual misconduct.
This is an incredibly harrowing film. On the surface, this seems like an idyllic community. The men go hunting together, families are close knit and traditions are kept up. But what is shocking is how quickly all that can change. When the alleged victim – a 5-year old girl – can’t get her story straight, the school principal calls in an expert (either a child psychologist or the school superintendent, we’re not sure). He then helps the little girl craft her story, which is absolutely unconscionable. (Don’t these people watch LAW & ORDER: SVU? Perhaps they don’t.) Fortunately, the police are able to pick apart her and her classmates’ stories – the allegations grow in number as all the kids and their parents start talking – and the charges against Lucas are dropped. But the damage has already been done and Lucas has become a pariah. Like the deer that he and his friends hunt each fall, Lucas finds himself in the townspeople’s crosshairs and they don’t hesitate for a half a second to take aim.
As I was watching the film, I assumed that, at some point, truth and justice would win out. (Truth does but justice less so.) But how does one turn back the clock after going through an experience like this? How do you forgive and how do you forget? The wounds are far too deep and the scars will be there for the rest of your life. These questions are answered at the film’s thought-provoking ending.
THE HUNT is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who also directed THE CELEBRATION in 1998. This earlier film also deals with the accusation of sexual abuse but, in this case, the community does not believe the accuser. Both films, however, come to the same conclusion that the cooler heads rarely prevail.
The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, who starred in the James Bond film, CASINO ROYALE. He can currently be seen on the TV series HANNIBAL as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Mikkelsen’s face is like a blank canvas, which director Vinterberg uses to full advantage. There is a scene in the film where he confronts his former best friend to tell him to look into his eyes. “There is nothing there,” he says. His anguish seems so real that it will break your heart. Mikkelsen was awarded with the Best Actor prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for this work and THE HUNT was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year. (It lost to THE GREAT BEAUTY from Italy.)
This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year – and I don’t dish out such high praise lightly. Go get yourself a copy and watch it.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 34:35.)