The past three or four Unreality Reader Recommendations have all been animated action movie-based, and I’ve gone through a myriad of DC films like Under the Red Hood, Superman vs. the Elite and Wonder Woman. I just put another notch on my belt with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, but that’s going to have to wait for another day.
In my last column I asked for suggestions as to what I should watch next, and “The Hunt,” was brought up. I’d vaguely heard of the movie, out this year and from Denmark, I believe, and knew only that it was A) good and B) starred Mads Mikkelsen. Throw in a reader recommendation, and that’s good enough for me.
I went into the film not realizing the central story revolved around Mikkelsen as Lucas, a middle-aged teacher, being falsely accused of pedophilia. The last two Mikkelsen roles I’ve seen are of him as a savage serial killer in Hannibal and as fearsome Viking warrior in Valhalla Rising. He’s usually the monster, not the victim, and if was off-putting seeing him as such.
There’s a knot that will slowly tie itself in your stomach as you watch the events of the film unfold. Mikkelsen becomes a surrogate mentor and parent figure to his best friend’s daughter six-year-old Klara as her parents fight and she’s often neglected. One day during kindergarten where Lucas is a teacher, she kisses him on the mouth and slips a Valentine in his coat. Lucas gently chides her for doing both, but thinks nothing more of it.
Unfortunately, Klara goes into full pout mode after being spurned, and when another teacher asks her what’s wrong, she says she hates Lucas. When pressed further, she recites something she saw earlier in the day as her brother and his friend browsed through pornography on an iPad. “I don’t like his penis,” she said. “It’s pointy like a rod.”
And then, that’s all it takes. Klara is pressed by the teacher and a whole host of outside investigators into what exactly she meant. Having no idea what half the questions mean, and eventually unable to remember what she even said in the first place, sometimes she nods, but mostly she shakes her head and says she made it all up and Lucas is fine. At that point, however, the adults fill in the blanks for her. She’s repressing memories. She just doesn’t want to admit what he did. Soon, the other kids chatter on the playground, and more stories of Lucas’s imagine misbehavior emerge from kids not wanting to be left out of the conversation, while simultaneously not understanding what it’s about.
As a result, Lucas is hounded by the townspeople he once called his friends, Klara’s father and mother included. There’s no way to disprove what Klara is saying, and she can’t take it back any more. The shadow of doubt is there, and the divorced, middle-aged male school teacher is suddenly the town pariah, constantly harassed and even physically injured long before he even heads to a courtroom.
The Hunt tells an important story about assumptions and rumor spreading, though I didn’t take it to be a commentary on pedophilia accusations specifically. I don’t think the point being made by the film is that accusations like Klara’s are largely made up, and many convicted pedophiles are innocent or victims of storytelling kids. I think it’s more about the general concept of lynch-mobbing, and the film uses Klara and Lucas to tell a story entirely about misunderstanding and the assumption of guilt in certain circumstances.
The film is powerful and heart-wrenching. I won’t say how it all shakes out in the end, though I’ll say it’s harrowing without being completely bleak.
Mikkelsen is fantastic as Lucas, and it’s a side of the actor I haven’t really seen before. The most powerful scene of the film has him beaten inside his local grocery store, yet refusing to be the outcast everyone wants him to be. Blood streaming down his face, he marches inside and demands to be allowed to pay for his groceries. It’s an incredible moment, as is the finale set inside a chapel on Christmas Eve.
Even if it wasn’t what I was expecting when I heard about a movie called The Hunt that starred the normally violent Mikkelsen, it was absolutely worthwhile to watch. Though there’s nothing overtly graphic or explicit, and the crime in question is imaginary, it’s still really tough to watch, and likely won’t be for everyone. Still, I’m glad I took the time, and it’s on Netflix if you feel the need to do the same.
So, what’s next?