This week’s Netflix review comes from the 2014 Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. “The Hunt” hails from Denmark and was directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen (“After the Wedding,” “King Arthur”). Mikkelsen plays a schoolteacher whose world falls apart after one of his students, a kindergarten student named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) forms a crush on him and claims he committed a lewd act in front of her.
In the beginning, you may forget that this film is a mixture of drama and thriller. It is Christmastime. We are in a small Danish village. We open to a bunch of pale Danish men leaping bravely into a frigid pond. Lucas is recently divorced and struggles to maintain a relationship with his teenage son. He is close friends with many of the parents in the community and even takes on a girlfriend (a coworker).
Klara is the daughter of one of Lucas’ best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). She forms a crush on Lucas and even sends him a paper heart to show her affection. He returns this to her, knowing that it would be inappropriate to accept this token from one of his students. And this is where it gets dark: Klara draws upon a memory of a pornographic photo shown to her by her brother and makes comments to the kindergarten director. Naturally, the director becomes alarmed and believes that Lucas performed inappropriate behaviors around Klara. Wedderkopp does an excellent job for an actress so young. Her honesty and innocence are completely natural, as if we were following her around in a documentary.
As for the dialogue, it is an integral part of what makes Wedderkopp’s performance so believable. It is crafted so that even as the audience knows the truth, we can understand how conclusions are so easily made and passions so easily run high.
From the start we know that these accusations are unfounded, and that makes this film frustrating to say the least. Klara doesn’t comprehend the gravity of what she said and becomes confused when she is repeatedly questioned. The director believes that Klara is in denial and the community turns against Lucas.
I was initially interested in this film because I love Mikkelsen in his other roles, such as Johann Struensee in “A Royal Affair” and as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the NBC series “Hannibal.” Despite his critically acclaimed role as the gentleman cannibal and psychiatrist in Hannibal, his role in “The Hunt” is completely the opposite. He is decidedly tame, sympathetic and moving.
His role as Lucas stirs up an instinctual fear that exists deep in the most primitive parts of our brain. And that is: abandonment. Forced isolation. Lucas is made completely vulnerable and has to exist on the fringes of society. It taps into our most basic fears and that is why it is not only a drama but a thriller.
There is a good reason why this film is called “The Hunt.” While Lucas is considered a sexual predator by the community, it is the community that is unrightfully preying upon him. The question of who is predator and who is prey is always asked in this film. There are themes of hunting throughout the film as well. Every once in a while, just when we think things are going well for Lucas, we are met with gunshots. We may never discover from whose smoking barrel the shot came from, but we do know that Lucas may never be safe and that his reputation may never be repaired.
The film raises questions such as: How do you trust? Who decides what truth is? And finally, how accurate is memory? In a pivotal scene, Lucas sits in the front of a church, nose busted by a blow delivered by one of his former friends. He turns to look behind him and stares at his accusers. There is no dramatic overture. There is nothing but the creaking of church pews and the flicker of candlelight. He stares for an excruciating amount of time. The power of that scene is that it forces the other members of the community to see what we have seen this whole time: his innocence and humanity. Mikkelsen has a particular talent for emoting with extreme subtlety. In this scene, he emits brokenness without words. It is in his eyes—and behind his eyes we see the soul of a broken man.
This film has subtitles– I know, a lot of extra work. But it is definitely worth it! Watch it on Netflix now and do check out some of Mads Mikkelsen’s other roles!