Pedophilia and the related abuses of children are thought of by most people, by ‘the public’, as a clear-cut issue even in this day and age of moral relativism and ambiguity. If you were to say that someone was ‘evil’ for being a homosexual than the public would label you hateful – a label I would not contest – but say the same about a pedophile and you will likely be met by uncomfortable nods and murmurs of agreement, even from those who lean deep to the left. The Hunt, in its way, disagrees with this simplicity; seeming to state that there is more at play in these cases then a mere moral judgement can convey. It presents pedophilia as a matter of perspective.
Primarily it does this by putting us in the shoes of someone accused of having the trait. We as a society are almost taught that when we hear about an accused paedophile we should think ‘How sick. I hope he suffers’ and then think nothing more of it; paying little mind to the truth of the matter, not wanting or willing to dig into the details. That is what Writer/Director Thomas Vinterberg seemingly aims to have us do here, to look at the many lives an accusation lives – even one built on a lie – and the many live it can ruin. The film falls short of doing this though, it’s too conscious of our comfort (the main character Sidney Poitier-ed in his inherent goodness) and so although its inverted the truth of this case is just as obvious and the emotions just as powerful as any pulled from the news; so we cry for justice of a different sort but we still never really get beneath the surface of the issue.
That’s not to say though that there aren’t some interesting ideas scattered throughout the script. The film, for instances, presents an interesting take on contact with children, on how it too is a matter of perspective. The film’s protagonist Lucas is constantly touching children as a part of his job, even at times in private places and it is seen as entirely appropriate there, in fact he is adored for it. Parents too touch their children; they pick them up, they play with them. The difference between this and pedophilia, while obviously massive, is a mental one; ‘appropriate’ is shown to be a societal establishment. There are also intriguing hints towards a discussion on social willingness but that never really eventuates into anything. We understand that the town is overly willing to believe, but why are they?
The other question you will find yourself asking throughout the film is something along the lines of ‘Why are they all so stupid?’ Characters on all sides of the conflict act with an inordinate dumbness, the whole thing avoidable if only one of them had stopped to take sensical action; in fact the film at times feels most like a farce and is surprisingly almost funny enough to work as one. The Hunt isn’t itself dumb, but it is a film where such intellectual inquiries are left aside, because while it is maybe a missed opportunity in terms of tackling the central issue it does still take you on an intense emotional journey. One which ticks of most of the ostracized violence tropes along the way, rarely straying into new territory despite the singular premise.
Mads Mikkelson gives a great understated performance as Lucas: convincing as the world’s most beloved bachelor, harboring enough coldness to allow some validity to the town’s conviction and excelling at the violence and vitriol that the role eventually requires. In fact the whole cast is very strong, though his was the only face and name that I really knew: both Thomas Bo Larsen as the best friend and Anika Wederkopp as the girl stood out as strongest among them. Vinterberg’s direction is also damn impressive: as an ex-Dogme member his approach is obviously gritty and intimate and that lends a real oomph to affairs, rather than resulting in something lackluster like the style can. You tighten up whenever Lucas is around the kids, get so tense over every touch; you feel trapped when figures flitter by the window, terrified when the rocks and bullets hurl and bruised yourself by the time the credits roll.
But perhaps this tightness hurts the film too because as a result of it the perspective is stuck. We see only what Lucas sees, hear only what he is told and while this is necessary for us to feel that the town is terribly tyrannical, it also restricts the film to a single layer of depth. How this happened is fascinating, but we only see that it did. What drove Ole to squeeze the confession out of the girl? Why was her mother so willing to believe it? And what would make all the other families fall in step so suddenly? To go so far as suggesting their own sexual abuse? I can’t help but think a film that addressed, rather than skirted, those sorts of questions would have been the more important one.
The Hunt is brave to stand against the mob and pitchforks, but in its own way it still tries to crowd-please; more melodrama than message movie. It’s fantastically effective as the former, but I’m not sure that this warrants wielding such a strong topic over. That is my issue though, as much as it is the film’s own. I was worried for a while there that it was even going to go so far as to finish with a happy ending but instead it closes with both the haunting idea of a simmering hatred beneath civilization that can’t be removed and an assertion that the truth will rise up above all. It’s a rather balanced answer to a question rarely posed with any delicacy from a potent, provocative picture; so while it may not be perfect that is probably enough to warrant The Hunt its praise.