The Hunt explores the devastating consequences of a false accusation. It highlights the sinister tendency that we have to mete out punishment to our peers despite their being found wholly innocent in the eyes of the law; it is a film which reflects how “innocent until proven guilty” can swiftly become “guilty despite being being proven innocent.”
Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, A Royal Affair) is Lucas, a lonely kindergarten teacher who has been forced to leave his job teaching at a secondary school due to cutbacks, and who is currently fighting his estranged wife for custody of his son. One of the children, Klara, who is also the daughter of Lucas’ best friend, develops a childish crush on him when he walks her home after finding her lost at the local supermarket. When Lucas discovers how Klara feels about him, he sets her right and tells her instead to give the gift she made for him to one of the boys her own age. Klara is upset and tells an innocent lie to one of the other teachers. Fairly soon, Lucas is accused of sexually abusing her.
What follows is an unflinching documentation of how the community ostracises Lucas based upon purely the suspicion of his wrongdoing. Highly relevant given the on-going furore surrounding allegations of institutionalised paedophilia in this country, The Hunt chronicles the hardship that such allegations can force upon the innocent. I do not intend here to speculate precisely who is or is not innocent of the alarming range of alleged crimes that currently saturate the airwaves, because, as the film shows, this is counterproductive.
The residents of Lucas’ community all-too-easily allow themselves to be carried away by a sense of self-righteousness that goes well beyond the realm of law. He is prevented from shopping in his local supermarket, physically beaten when he refuses to leave. Without giving away too much of the plot, it is safe to say that Lucas’ very life is endangered by the judgement passed upon him by the community, even when fully exonerated.
The film’s devastating conclusion is that Lucas’ life can never go back to the way that it was, that he has become the perpetual “hunted” – that even though the community grudgingly, and superficially, accepts the law’s decision, he will be dogged for as long as he lives anywhere near these people. The film asks the question to what extent does punishment for a crime, or in this case for a perceived crime, range beyond the regulated legal system? Does the ephemeral, unregulatable ‘community’ have any right to confer additional punishment to that deemed necessary by the state? Should we be concerned when it does? And even if the law decides we deserve to be free, can the same be said of our peers?
None of these questions have easy answers, but for anyone interested in them (and how can one not be?)The Hunt makes for essential, if uncomfortable, viewing.