Thomas Vinterburg’s film about a teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a kindergarten helper in a Danish rural area. We see him take his son to the deer hunt and at home with his girlfriend. A child makes accusations against him. He is ostracized and subject to persecution. Social interaction is off limits to him. He is persecuted in a supermarket and there is a terrible scene at a Christmas Eve service…
The film clearly establishes that Lucas is innocent, so our focus is on how he copes with the community and how they treat him. It looks at our sentimentalized gullibility in our readiness to believe these sorts of accusations. This was interestedly dealt with in Richard Hughes’ 1950s novel High Wind in Jamaica. The Hunt is a pretty grim view of what human behaviour is capable of. The one friend who seems to doubt the accusation keeps silent and is too afraid to help. In what should be a legal matter, most people have made up their minds as they self righteously distance themselves from Lucas as if any friendliness towards him would taint them. Lucas is a victim of medieval hysteria in a community whose country, Denmark, is regarded as one of the most tolerant and sophisticated in the affluent world, so what hope for the innocent accused in a less ‘enlightened’ culture? In Britain recently we have witnessed the Jimmy Saville case (a recently deceased entertainer accused of abusing children, colleagues who knew him said nothing).
The Hunt offers us the familiar plot of locals in a rural area ganging up on either outsiders or turning one of their own into an outsider victim. One thinks of Wickerman and The Village. Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas is quite absorbing as the accused, he handles ostracism with the support of his son as he desperately tries to hold on to his dignity and sanity. He never succumbs to paranoia even though he has objective grounds to do so. We seem to be looking at the frailty of our civilization, how we depend on each other’s capacity for decency to sustain our daily lives. Without the presence of the law daily interaction can appear to be quite terrifying. This is human weakness feeding evil and it’s much more convincing about group persecution than (for example) Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Upon establishing his innocence to the satisfaction of the locals, the film cleverly upsets our expectations. The locals seem to have got over whatever shame or remorse they might have felt, we get no tearful apologies. Lucas seems to have forgiven everybody and shows no resentment over his treatment, in this he seems to show more saintly forgiveness than Nelson Mandela towards the apartheid regime. Someone then tries to shoot Lucas as he returns to the forest. We are left guessing who did this and for what motive: anger at being proved wrong, lingering hatred for his supposed crime? We are left guessing.