The Hunt (2012) – De Facto Guilt

The Hunt is a 2012 Danish film by director Thomas Vinterberg. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, the movie’s protagonist. In many cases of child molestation, once the story is broken amongst the community its effects are nearly apparent. The accused is de facto guilty by the community. Whatever the accused says to exonerate themselves is perceived as a lie, as “children don’t lie.” Now in many cases of child molestation, the accused is usually proven guilty. The abuser is forever tainted with what they did and society promptly labels them as some sort of sub human creature. However in cases in which the accused is proven not guilty, things can sometimes become more complex. Most people accused of child molestation are proven guilty, so those that are proven not guilty are often viewed with contempt. So while being innocent of the crime brought against them and exonerated by the courts, they are guilty for simply being accused of the crime.

This idea of de facto guilt is what strongly drives The Hunt. Ultimately this is what makes the movie an intriguing subject to watch, as other movies have delved into the problems of identifying situations of child molestation and the difficulties of convicting offenders. Doubt (2008) is actually a good compliment to The Hunt as the differing subjects and style of shooting allows people to see both sides of the spectrum when dealing with a sensitive subject. When watching one movie, I feel its also a good idea to also watch the other film. In both flicks there are main characters who are trying to do the right thing, yet are constantly stonewalled or put through the ringer by their respective communities. In Doubt Sister Aloysius tries to expose Father Flynn’s misconduct with a child, however she is later stonewalled by the church and seen as being an enemy. Whereas in The Hunt Lucas tries to break through his town’s growing prejudice and disgust in him while trying to prove his innocence, despite answering the accusation against him.

In The Hunt the movie opens with Lucas, who is a  middle aged divorced man and living in a somewhat small Danish town. Hunting is ultimately what unites the men, and thus the families and people of the town. Its also the basis for the title as  Lucas is the hunted. He is a kindergarten assistant and all of the kids love him, as well as his coworkers. Together they act as a sort of safety net for the kids who live in a hostel family atmosphere. Klara, Annika Wedderkopp, is one of these children. Being the child of Theo, Lucas’ best friend, they share a bond that is slightly more special. The key difference being that Klara sometimes is taken to school by Lucas or comes to his house to walk his dog Fanny. Klara’s parents seem to bicker often, which in turn leads her to spend time with Lucas, so she can gain her a reprieve from the madness in her home.

While much of this is fairly harmless, certain elements brew together, which slowly culminate to shatter Lucas’ life and the relationships with the various people he has known for years. Klara’s closeness to Lucas is one element. She longs to seemingly have someone  in her life who can protect her from her parents fighting. Lucas apparently  fills this role, and as a result she develops the inkling of a childlike romance towards him. One day Klara’s brother and his friend show her porn, this is the first time she sees an erect penis. Later she gives Lucas a romantic-ish card, and slips it into his coat. That same day she kisses Lucas on the lips. Lucas then gives the card back to Klara. She expresses her hate for Lucas, which is childish, to Grethe. Being a child  Klara puts two things that she knows together into one sentence, one being that she knows Lucas, and the other being that penises can be erect. Feeling uneasy with what Klara said, Grethe takes action and tries to determine whether or not Klara has been molested by Lucas. She of course informs Klara’s mom, who is horrified. Eventually Klara meets with a specialist in order to figure out if she has been molested.

This is where things truly begin to build up against Lucas. At this point things are going pretty good in Lucas’ life. He has a girlfriend, his son has decided to live with him instead of his ex wife, and he has a great relationship with the various parents whose kids go to his school. Likewise the feeling of the town is that of kinship and laxness. However once Klara is to be questioned on her story, Lucas is promptly put on leave. This is without question the eye of the storm. At this point, if all goes well with Klara’s assessment, then the community can continue on with its peaceful existence. However the truth is rarely heard or understood when Klara is asked questions and she responds to the best of her ability. Going into his interview, the specialist already seems biased. Neither Grethe or the specialist seem to know what to do when assessing a possible case of child molestation. Instead of trying to fully explain what they are asking of Klara, such as what happened between her and Lucas. Why does she hate Lucas, what does the heart mean? Or even Did he hurt her or do anything to her which made her feel uncomfortable? Klara is far too young to really understand these questions and so she gives very vague responses. Regardless its enough for Grethe and the specialist to run with their imaginations. Sewing a story extremely lewd which seems to never have an ending. The aftermath of Klara’s “confirmed” molestation is swift and continues to build extremely damaging momentum, so much so that not even she is safe.

Of course Lucas’ suspension continues, and he is informed that the charges brought against him have merit. Grethe quickly informs the parents of Lucas’ supposed guilt, however she adds fire to the flame by saying there could be several cases of molestation. While the parents begin to observe their children for symptoms of  abuse, the story of Klara’s abuse is continually twisted and added to, thereby breeding various stories. As Lucas determines the accusations are based between him and Klara he tries in a vain attempt to plead with her parents that he is innocent. Theo is obviously still in shock and displays doubt as to who he should believe. However his wife undoubtedly reinforces Lucas’ guilt into his mind. The story continues to spread and grow in prominence, so much so that Lucas is even assaulted when he tries to buy groceries from the market, specifically by its employees. The town perpetuates the idea that Lucas is guilty, so much so that his girlfriend eventually doubts his innocence, this leads to their breakup. Grethe seems to possibly be responsible for the stories circulating about Lucas. One day he confronts her, while he begs her to tell him what the contents of the stories are she continually remains silent and retreats from his presence.

This is especially important, because the audience never actually hears any of these accusations that are being bought against Lucas, only the original story that is created by Grethe. This really brings a feeling of ostracization, as Lucas wants to know what people are saying about him, he wants to know how ugly this story has evolved. However both him and the viewer are not even allowed to know what is being said, which makes Lucas a very defenseless character. This puts Lucas and the audience in the same boat helping us empathize with him. Things grow more complicated once Lucas’ ex wife Kristin is told by someone, likely that he is a twisted child molester, this in turn is relayed to his son Marcus. Who comes to his aid, going to the town and staying with him. In a strong and emotional scene Marcus tries to confront Klara as to why she “accused” his dad of molesting her. It ends with him being beaten a bit. Eventually only one family, Bruun’s, decides to side with Lucas as they have known each other for years and truly believe he is not guilty. As Lucas and Marcus are staying with the family, they prepare for the case. This serves to bring a vestige of hope to Lucas’ seemingly hopeless situation. The next day Lucas is taken away by the police. While investigating the claims, an element added to the abuse stores was a basement. However the authorities find no basement and believe Lucas is indeed innocent, the charges are then dropped. Thus the story of supposed abuse is crushed as well as the constant persecution from the community, well not quite.

Apparently Lucas was only in the eye of the storm. Lucas’ life actually gets worse. De facto guilt has been invoked. The idea that Lucas has dodged justice is probably  coursing through the minds of the people. The town still hate him and his son. In probably the stronger climax, as there could arguably be two, a rock is thrown into Lucas’ house. This prompts Lucas and Marcus to investigate whats going on, only to discover a dead Fanny. Lucas proceeds to bury her, which also echoes the town’s tranquil nature or possibly innocence. Marcus is sent home, leaving Lucas to discover a solution to his dilemma to which there seems to be non. The months continue to pass, by this time its Christmas. Yet nothing has changed for Lucas. He decides to attend the special Christmas service, to which the second climax is introduced. Lucas sits towards the front, while Theo and his family sits near the back. Lucas can hear the other people talking about him, however hes more concerned with Theo. He occasionally looks back at Theo, and witnesses him exchanging words with his wife. In a fit of anger and sorrow Lucas confronts Theo telling him to look into his eyes to see he has no guilt in him, but Theo chooses to ignore him. In his frustration Lucas starts slapping Theo, this leads to Lucas’ ejection from the church.

Back home Theo put Klara to bed, and quietly laments to himself. A barely awake Klara mistakes her father as Lucas and expresses her sadness over the events of the film and how they are no longer close. Especially how Marcus hates her, and how she misses walking with Fanny. Then she basically confesses that she doesn’t know why people hate him, because he has not done anything to her. She expresses that what people say happened to her, did in fact not occur. In a way this is symbolic for Theo, who  is finally able  to recognize Lucas’ innocence. Its also reminiscent for how the lies started in the darkness and how the truth was eventually uncovered in the night as well. Theo drinks his figurative medicine and tells his wife what Klara said. Against her wishes he decides to go and take some food to Lucas. The two reconcile, and Theo wholeheartedly wants to clear Lucas of any wrongdoing.

A year passes and it seems that Lucas’ life has been fully restored. Marcus is living with his dad now, Lucas has reconciled with his girlfriend, and the community has embraced Lucas’ innocence bringing him back in sync with everyone. Hunting season has begun and Marcus is ready to accept his manhood. Lucas and Klara are back to being close family friends. All is well that ends well. Except that Lucas manages to dodge a bullet to his head by a total fluke. A startled and scared Lucas looks at his attacker unable to make out the person’s face against the sun. Too in shock to chase the gunman, Lucas is left to lament on the fact, that things have not come full circle and maybe never will.

The ending rings true. As most people accused of molestation will likely never be viewed as innocent by the communities they live in or places they work. It will forever hang over them, unless these people choose to leave the places they reside in and move some place where no one knows them. Now of course The Hunt is not trying to say that all people accused of molestation are innocent. However it can be viewed as the consequences for when the proper channels of identifying and reporting cases of abuse fail. Again going back to Grethe and the specialist, there are many possible things that could have been done in order to avoid the fallout of Lucas’ de facto guilt. That said the movie is a great drama. It portrays a man desperately trying to clear his name, as well as fighting an invisible enemy that resides in people’s minds. Specifically fear and assumptions. Constantly we see Lucas up against the wall of accusations and even in a corner silently receiving everyone’s hate. However Lucas trudges on, hoping to change everyone’s mind, which throughout the movie does not happen. The best angles that capture the mood are often the ones where Lucas or Klara are off center. These types of angles perfectly embody Lucas’ de facto guilt. As many people believe him to be guilt, so the town is focusing on him, yet they widely choose to avoid him or ignore his presence. The murder of Fanny is an especially chilling and enlightening scene,  as Fanny served as a link to Lucas’ and Klara’s close ties. One these ties die, they die hard. Fanny was also a very innocent canine. The Hunt is definitely worth a watch, and a rewatch.

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