This is truly a witch hunt, in which the hysteria of the adults in the small town where Lucas teaches grows to an unbearable pitch. The movie, in fact, becomes frustrating to watch, and terribly painful as this man's life gets destroyed by the inability for anyone to speak calmly or without prejudice about the topic at hand. The hunt is also a metaphor (and significant setpiece) in the film: Lucas hunts deer with his friends and hopes to give his son a family heirloom rifle as soon as he is old enough to get a hunting license.
In the vein of Vinterberg's former Dogme-95 style, the drama is tightly focused on the interiors of its carefully drawn characters. We come to understand these people, and (at least for me) to be afraid of the things that they will do. We know them very well, and the portrayals are honest and terrifying. There is so much powerlessness in the film. Things simply get out of hand. And when a child is involved there is even less that can be controlled. Can the child remember things accurately? Do we know what children feel? Whether children tell the truth? We know for sure that children do not understand their own feelings (we barely understand our feelings as adults). But do we know whether children can even speak accurately about what happened? The whole thing is scary, and Vinterberg spins the tale as one of quiet dread, headed almost inexorably toward tragedy.
|The excellent Mr. Mikkelsen|
But there are no sex offenders or perverts in The Hunt. Instead – and this is what Vinterberg's film does well – there are only hysterical adults, people who are not the least bit interested in their children, but are focused instead on themselves, their own problems, their own fears, their own self-righteousness about the world. The characters in The Hunt aren't interested in protecting children, in caring for children, even in listening to what children have to say. Instead, they are interested in projecting their own neuroses, desires, and troubles away from anyone but themselves. The Hunt is a portrait of a difficult world gone crazy.
I want to say, too, that The Hunt ends perfectly, with an excellently tense encounter between Lucas and his accuser and then a haunting finale that drove home Vinterberg's meditation on hysteria's lasting effects. This is very good stuff.