Friday, January 17, 2014

The Hunt (Jagten) Movie Review

Once you put a piece of information out into the world, true or not, it stirs around forever. Years can go by and someone can come across it and it will start to kick u dust again. A now discredited doctor made up data that suggested a link between certain childhood vaccines and autism. Now there is a large and growing anti-vaccine movement. That all comes from an initial lie. The things most people think they know about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and their motivation for shooting up their high school in Littleton, Colorado, are based on initially flawed reporting and bad information. Those untruths continue to be the commonly held truth. The list can go on and on. To some extent, Thomas Vinterberg’s affecting drama, The Hunt is based on exactly that phenomenon on a microcosmic level.

The Hunt is a story of a lonely middle-aged man named Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), whose life is torn apart suddenly and irreparably by a lie told by someone no one would ever suspect to not be telling the truth. A young girl, Klara, the daughter of his best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), and also a student in the kindergarten where he works combines two disparate thoughts – her unhappiness with Lucas’s kind and appropriate reaction to a gift; and sexually-laced words she heard spoken by a friend o her teenage brother – in such a way that her teacher believes Lucas is guilty of sexual abuse. A third party questions the girl, who is too young to truly understand the implications of what’s being asked of her and her responses prompt an investigation.

Regardless of Lucas’s guilt or innocence, the accusation alone is enough to send shockwaves throughout this small Danish community. He is put on work suspension, his ex-wife is contacted and she refuses to allow their son to go live with him, shopkeepers refuse him entrance, and his friends reject him. Lucas is so distraught he can’t even stand to be in the presence of his new girlfriend (Alexandra Rapaport) without imagining that she, too, looks at him differently.

Vinterberg’s The Celebration was a film about child sexual abuse, but The Hunt (written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm) is not really about the subject per se. It’s not even really about the case. It’s about eh power of words to change minds and alter perception. It’s a fascinating study of the bonds of family and friendship. What Klara says can’t rightly be construed as a lie because she doesn’t do it on purpose. There is no malice. She even tries to make up for it, but by then the adults have already bought into it and invested themselves so deeply that very little could pull them back. But it’s love and family that drives The Hunt more than accusations and betrayals. It’s about what any parent would do to protect their child from a perceived threat, what a father would do to be closer to his son when it feels like everyone is conspiring to keep them apart., and what the meaning of friendship is when your lifelong pal insists he’s not guilty of a hideous crime. The friendship Lucas has with Theo is complicated by the fact that they’ve known each other so long, but Theo’s parental instinct and, more to the point, his wife’s are too strong to see the possibility that Lucas did nothing wrong. Likewise, Lucas eventually reaches a breaking point over his relationship to Theo for his not trusting him.

I am grateful to Vinterberg for moving beyond the constricting practices of the Dogme 95 conventions that he, Lars von Trier, and other filmmakers signed onto almost twenty years ago. As much as some very good films came out of that movement (including The Celebration, which made my top ten of 1998), it’s a rather limiting method of filmmaking. Style is important and can add to or detract from the merits of a movie, but at the end of the day, story and characterization matter most. The Hunt has it. And lest you think that Vinterberg has gone all mawkish and sentimental, he closes this film with a shot that rings out, almost knocking you out of your seat. It’s a moment that continues to reverberate long beyond its initial impact and then he holds the camera in place just a shade longer than your comfort zone allows. But in those extra seconds we know, as we see that Lucas knows, the supposition of guilt will never be eradicated.

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