In the quietly explosive new movie The Hunt, Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg chillingly documents the swiftness with which a man’s life can crumble. At the center of the upheaval is Mads Mikkelsen, who gives an extraordinary performance as Lucas, a divorced kindergarten teacher brought to his knees by a confused little girl’s rigorously prompted claim that he has done something horrible to her.
Vinterberg sets up Lucas’s eventual trial-by-fire by dropping ominous clues. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the doe-eyed kindergartner and daughter of Lucas’s best friend, is a bit of a loner, a fabulist, and a staunch believer in the theory that stepping on cracks will break vulnerable backs. Her teenage brother inappropriately shows her a quick glance at internet pornography and drops the word “rod” into her vocabulary. And when Lucas rejects a cardboard heart Klara’s made for him, her hurt boils into some kind of revenge she's too young to understand and she tells her principal Lucas made it for her.
His boss draws illogical conclusions, as does the social service investigator, who supplies the details to a story that Klara stumbles over because she’s probably making it up as she goes along. Ambiguous words like “seems” and “appears” become, a few hours later, indicting; the narrative now is that “something has occurred.” Klara, the lone “victim,” becomes one of “several.” And despite the girl’s wobbly story, Lucas becomes a pariah, treated with derisive stares and, in an unsettling scene set in his neighborhood grocery store, viciousness and bloodletting.
It seems the only person who believes in his innocence is his teenage son, whose presence seems to bring some of Lucas’s friends back into the fold. Vinterberg has dived into this material before; in the disingenuously titled A Celebration, the accusations of sexual abuse are inter-familial and spill out at a dinner in a vindictive toast. Here, where the town is let in on the charges, what emerges is akin to Hester Prynne branded by a big Scarlet Letter. Mikkelsen, whose Lucas seems to organically emit fairness and goodness, couldn’t be better as a man who thinks he knows how justice works but refuses to be silenced when he learns it doesn’t always cooperate.
The Hunt| Dir. Thomas Vinterberg | 1 hour 46 minutes | Showing at Tivoli Cinemas