Don’t Trust the Children, by David Bax
I don’t know what director Thomas Vinterberg and his cowriter Tobias Lindholm are trying to say with The Hunt. Or, more to the point, I hope they’re not trying to say what they appear to be saying. This paranoid, cynical, panicky film about the plight of a male authority figure is insulting in the rare moments when it’s not just tediously misanthropic.
Mads Mikkelsen (who is fantastic, but since when is that news?) stars as Lucas, a recently divorced man living in the small town where he grew up and teaching kindergarten (or something like it). His previous job was as an instructor at the local high school but it’s been closed. When one of his young students develops a sort of crush on him, he gently directs her to turn her affections toward boys her own age. Spurned, the girl tells the school’s principal that Lucas did something to her that he didn’t and Lucas’s life subsequently falls apart at a horrifying velocity.
Vinterberg, who burst onto the international cinema stage fifteen years ago with The Celebration, is no slouch when it comes to directing and assembling a film. It helps, of course, to have Mikkelsen at the center but the performances are well-pitched all around. Vinterberg favors close-ups and close quarters that emphasize the tightness of relations in the small town. It also forces people to talk in low voices, the rumbling Danish words highlighting the dire importance of each thing spoken. Lucas’s downfall is perfectly paced and executed for maximum emotional devastation, leaving you with no doubt that Vinterberg is beyond competent as a filmmaker.
So it’s not the object that is The Hunt that’s unpalatable. It’s the implications that grow beneath it with each scene and the impetus for making the film in the first place, which is terrifying to consider. Is Vinterberg really trying to warn us that male teachers accused by eight-year-olds of sexual molestation could just be the victims of a young girl’s bitter romantic rejection? That’s a pretty young age to start directing misogyny at a person. He doesn’t limit his suspicions to female children, though. The women in The Hunt, and in The Hunt’s worldview, are uselessly sentimental pests who do far more harm than good. Lucas’s girlfriend seems to be the exception for a while but then she has a moment of doubt and is immediately banished for it. Lucas’s unseen ex-wife is a vile and spiteful subject of ridicule. Most importantly, however, there are two women in the film who have an opportunity to be rational but choose instead to be the opposite – perhaps hysterical, with its feminine etymology, is the best choice of words here. The principal and the girl’s mother choose to ignore evidence and believe that the girl was molested without a doubt. Maybe they even want to believe it. You know how women love drama, right?
Vinterberg’s misanthropy doesn’t end with the women, though. Most of the town’s males are brutish and unthinking while the children are either stupid when young or cruel when a bit older. Except, of course, for Lucas’s son, who is perfect because he comes from Lucas, who is perfect.
Vinterberg’s reasons for making The Hunt continue to evade me. The film comes across like a person crying out for tort reform to curb “frivolous lawsuits” but who is really only interested in making it more difficult to hold large companies responsible for damages to innocent people. Even though Vinterberg’s movie is as devastating as it means to be, its reason for existing should be your reason for avoiding it.