Director Thomas Vinterberg was one of the proponents of the Danish film movement Dogme 95, along with Lars Von Trier. The films that came out of this movement went against the grain in that they were markedly different from the films made by other directors under the studio system. They did not have a polished look and followed a hyper-realistic, documentary-style approach. One of the Dogme 95 films was Vinterberg’s 1998 film, The Celebration, about a son making an allegation during his father’s 60th birthday celebration – that he had sexually abused him and his twin sister. Fourteen years later, Vinterberg made another film that saw him revisiting some of the themes in The Celebration.
Vinterberg’s The Hunt is a powerful and harrowing film about a recently divorced kindergarten teacher Lucas whose seemingly quiet life is shattered by an accusation made my a little girl Klara studying in the same school where he works at. She alleges that Lucas has subjected her to indecent exposure. Klara is the daughter of his best friend Theo. This accusation changes everything between Lucas and Theo. We know from the very beginning that Lucas is completely innocent. Klara is innocent too. It was all the result of a silly misunderstanding. Lucas had rejected a gift from Klara earlier and sometime after that, her older brother had showed her a pornographic picture on his tablet. Klara has combined these two bruising experiences and concocted a story so damaging that we are not sure what to feel – anger or shock? And we begin to feel so bad for Lucas. How is the poor man going to get out of this? He has a teenage son, he has just begun a relationship with his co-worker Nadja, his best friend and his entire community now shuns him.
The film makes you ask the question – What would you do if you were in his shoes? It’s very hard to imagine. Lucas is only beginning to recover from his recent divorce. It is very early established that he cares deeply for children and we get the impression that this is a person who wouldn’t do something like that to a little kid. The building pressure leads him to break up with Nadja. Even though he is let go due to a lack of evidence, he is still not free in the eyes of his community. His dog is killed, a stone is thrown through his window. While trying to buy food at a grocery store, he gets into an altercation with the employees who try to beat him up. Not only him, but his son is shunned as well.
The most powerful scene in the film is set inside a church, when Lucas finally decides to
confront Theo and the entire community. I literally had tears in my eyes. Vinterberg couldn’t have picked a better actor to play Lucas than Mads Mikkelsen. I was already quite impressed with Mikkelsen after seeing him as the villainous Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. But this was the film that turned me into a huge Mikkelsen fan for life. I was overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of his deeply affecting performance and made me hunt (no pun intended) for all the other films he has acted in so far. The film’s ending is left open for interpretation and does not offer us a fully comforting closure. It’s a film that is both challenging and rewarding at the same time. (I loved pretty much every film Mikkelsen has acted in so far, especially Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher-II. And let’s not forget his hugely complex Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the NBC series Hannibal.)