There are very few subjects that seem to be so affecting in the civilised world as paedophilia. A horrible crime although it is, it reveals a rather dark side to society. It would seem that in dealing with these monstrous actions we decide to become monsters ourselves. It is this ugly side to society which is explored in Jagten (The Hunt) to a devastating effect and with a powerful delivery.
The Hunt focuses on Danish kindergarten teacher, Lucas (played by Mads Mikkelsen, who won the prize for Best Actor at Cannes this year for his performance) and the way his life is eroded by false accusations of paedophilia by his 6-year-old student, Klara. Ostracised from his friends and the community, a witch hunt mentality takes over as Lucas attempts to prove his innocence. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Festen), it is a powerfully affecting and frustrating experience; you are watching a man innocent of his accusations continually stumble against the irrationality of a paranoid mob.
The film doesn’t so much explore whether or not Lucas is a paedophile – although it is initially guarded about this – but rather questions attitudes that develop when paedophilia emerges. It’s a dark reflection of our society and unflinching its criticism of the depth with which illogical suspicions warp our attitudes. Examining how paedophilia is discovered and the flaws within the system, The Hunt displays the gravity of accusing someone of such a crime, which may be too readily used at times.
It is critical of how the child is often believed over the adult and how, despite the fact there isn’t really any way of proving someone is a paedophile unless they’re caught in the act, the process to uncover one takes a ‘better safe than sorry’ stance. I suppose in a sense what The Hunt says about due process could be exchanged on to capital punishment: the law should be objective and the burden of proof should be held far more importantly than spontaneous accusations.
Cinematically, the film is fantastically put together. The performances are universally strong and the pacing and atmosphere are perfect. Mikkelsen embodies a man who is having his life unravel before his eyes; he is unrepentant and righteous in his attempts to defend himself. There are a few fantastic set pieces in which he confronts the accusations against him head on, and the visceral sense of injustice becomes almost tangible in these scenes due to Mikkelsen’s superb performance.
In addition to this we have a stately pace. The characters are introduced and developed before the accusations about Lucas even appear. Herein lies one of the strongest aspects of the film: as we see what Lucas’ life was, we come to appreciate all the more how devastating these accusations are. Particularly unnerving is the transformation so many of Lucas’ friends go through, from kindly neighbour to feral loathing.
It shouldn’t be misconstrued that this film in any way defends paedophilia. It’s about justice and how legal objectivity is disregarded when it comes to topics that hold a certain social sensitivity. Despite the fact that it’s just Lucas’ word against Klara’s, she is always the one who is unvaryingly believed. The film explores many ugly truths about society’s reaction to these types of situations and comes away with a rather uncomfortable realisation that suspicions about paedophiles never truly go away.
The Hunt is one of the films of the year. I would urge you to see this it for Mikkelsen’s performance alone. It’s a bold film, unafraid of confronting some challenging issues. Beautifully shot, its almost pastoral quality delves to the heart of small-town Denmark and unearths many unnerving realities. In many ways, it’s a modern retelling of Nietzsche’s “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” It reminds us that as catastrophic as paedophilia can be for the children who are victims, it can be just as catastrophic for those falsely accused.