Neurologist Oliver Sacks once said, “Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.” Perception and the malleability of memory are key components in director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film The Hunt.
The story follows Lucas (played by Mads Mikkelsen), a former high school teacher who has been forced to start over as a kindergarten assistant after the recent loss of his job. Just as things are starting to go his way, his life is shattered when the daughter of a close friend wrongfully accuses him of sexual abuse. Soon, his small community is thrown into a frenzy, with their attitude of condemnation growing out of control by the minute. As the lie continues to spread, Lucas is forced to fight for his dignity and innocence while fending off brutal physical and emotional attacks.
Vinterberg is no stranger to the intimate yet frightening dramas of family and small town life, as was showcased masterfully in his 1998 film The Celebration. As a founding member of the Dogme95 movement along with Lars Von Trier, Vinterberg is an effective cinematic detective, in which he utilizes his tools of natural lighting and handheld camera work in peeling back the often damaged psychological tissue of his characters and exposing the vast network of emotional mystery and turmoil ready to surface. The illumination allowing Vinterberg to cut through the dark subject matter is the powerful performance by Mikkelsen, for which he won best actor honors at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Here, Mikkelsen is like a mobile overgrown sponge, soaking in a myriad of venomous and destructive particles, wishing desperately for someone to assist in disposing of the hurt and prejudice weighing him down. Vinterberg had been mulling over the idea of a modern day witch hunt since 1999, when he encountered a renowned Danish child-psychologist who educated him on concepts such as repressed memory and thought as a virus. The story certainly focuses on the parasitical nature of certain thoughts, especially those inflamed by the perceived infallibility and innocence of children. Even as more evidence continues to build in Lucas’ favor, and his accuser herself recants her original accusation, the vast majority of the community refuses to relinquish their attack, as if an infectious disease has taken a hold of them, coursing through their veins and preventing any sort of sensible understanding of the issue to manifest.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the events unfolding before the viewer is the relative ease at which people of the community will condemn one another. It’s almost masochistic, taking in the vague and unsubstantiated words of the child accuser, and creating scenarios and details to compliment the sordid sexual episode they have constructed and seemingly longed for. The film ultimately raises questions on the infinite complexity of reality, and whether there is such a thing as unquestionable facts, or whether the events of daily existence change to the whims and desires of imagination.