This week I finally got around to see ”Jagten” or ”The Hunt” as it is probably more commonly known as. It is a matter of some embarrassment that I only see it now, and I cannot even excuse myself by living in Israel, since the movie was running in cinemas here as well for some time after the Academy nomination. My only excuse is that the heavy and serious theme has scared me from making an active effort to go see it. What changed now is simply that I pulled myself together and bought the bloody thing and forced myself to see it.
I did not regret that for a second. I only regret that I did not go to the cinema to see it while I had the chance.
On my quest to watch the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die I am far away from a modern movie like “Jagten”, but I fear it will after all not be included on the List and so there is really no point in waiting. I will simply have to make a new group for “Honorable Mentions”. Hereby done. In any case this is a movie that cry out for a review so here goes nothing.
“Jagten” is not so much a movie about pedophilia as the stigmata of false accusations. How slander, deserved or undeserved can ruin a persons life. In the movie we follow Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who has already met his share of challenges. He is divorced and we get the impression that it was a bad divorce, at least there is some sort of agreement that he is not allowed to call his ex-wife. Why we do not know. She got their teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) and is preventing Lucas to see his son beyond every second weekend. Apparently against the wishes of Marcus. Lucas also lost his job as a teacher at the local school when it was closed and is therefore now working in a kindergarten.
It is odd to see Mads Mikkelsen in this role. Usually his haggard looks has earned him roles as tough guy, like in “Casino Royale” and at first he seems oddly out of place in a kindergarten. His glasses helps to soften up his demeanor but he still looks like a guy whom life has dealt some brutal cards. It is only when we see him together with the children that it starts to makes sense. There is a good connection between Lucas and the children. Obviously the boys in the kindergarten are enjoying the rough games that most female nursery staff would hesitate from participating in, but more importantly he cares for the children and is willing to reach out for them. This we see in relation to Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who is feeling left over in her family and desperate needs an adult to care for her. His relationship with Klara is warm, but with the professional restraint that is expected of a kindergarten teacher.
This turns out to be crucial. Klara is so desperate for an adult that she decides to adopt Lucas. She seeks any opportunity to be around him, kisses him and gives him a present. When Lucas kindly but firmly refuses these advances Klara is crushed. Not only is her family ignoring her, her favorite kindergarten teacher is also pushing her away. She react in the way of any child, with anger and perfidity. Had it been any of the children she was angry on this would just have been business as usual, but when a child throws accusations on a male adult it is a whole different matter.
Now we get to the whole point of the story. The head of the kindergarten (Susse Wold as Grethe) hears Klara’s accusations and is deeply troubled by them. The shadow of pedophilia hangs heavy over any kindergarten. She calls in a colleague from another kindergarten who interviews Klara and seems to get the answers he wants and they convince each other that Klara has been sexually abused. That colleague is such a pig. Looking at him and listening to him he gets so excited that I feel confident he has some perverse tendencies in that direction and certainly this is the direction his mind goes. Klara just want to get out of the interview and agrees to anything that can get her off the hook. She is hardly five years old, what do you want from her?
Susse Wold is excellent as Grethe. She is totally pathetic both in her reactions in general and how she squirms under the responsibility and is in such a rush to pass it on. To the police, the staff and in particular to the parents who hears about this long before Lucas does. Lucas of course is royally pissed, but when he confronts Grethe with the accusations she just runs away instead of facing him in a scene of tragic comedy. The real tragedy of course is that this is not some cinematic exaggeration. There are lots of people like this out there and also in positions of leadership. On a side note it is funny to think that Susse Wold earned her spurs in naughty movies in the seventies usually wearing very little. Her Grethe character could not be further from those roles.
The story takes place in a small, provincial town. The kind of place where everybody knows everybody. I know this kind of place as I grew up in a small town just like this one. Once the word it is out Lucas is doomed. Everybody turns against him. Friends he has known since childhood suddenly wants to beat him up and everybody seems intent on freezing him out. Klara’s parents most of all. Her caveman of a father, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) is as frozen. He was Lucas best friend, but with this between them he seems not to recognize Lucas. The sad thing is that I understand them. Anybody with small children would. The children are the most precious we have and a person who abuses children is a monster.
The question of guilt is almost irrelevant. It is the suspicion that matters. To the mob you need no more than that and when people start talking Lucas does not stand a chance. Even when Klara admits that she was lying the adults are too stuck in their conviction of guilt that they ignore her. I cannot help being reminded of “The Oxbow Incident”. That may be horse rustling and not pedophilia, but I suspect that in that time and place that offense was just as bad. How easy it is for regular people to turn into a mindless mob and how futile it is to defend yourself.
Lucas goes through hell. His son comes to stay with him and he feels it too. Even when it turns out that the stories that goes around are totally absurd and the court releases him as innocent he is just as alone as before. A normal person would at that point have given up and moved away to a different town, but not a fighter like Lucas and therein lies the appeal of the movie. We want him to fight. We know he is the good guy and deserves a life and his resistance lends him integrity although it starts to look pathetic. He is lucky that he has a single friend, Bruun (Lars Ranthe). I am not sure what his actual relation is to Lucas or if there is some meaning in him being the lord of a manor and so placed above the mob, but without his support he would not have made it. What offends Lucas so badly is that even people who should know him well believes that he could be this monster without a shred of evidence, even his best mate Theo and his new girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport). Only his son and this guardian angel do not believe he would do such a thing.
I have been thinking if there are some religious references. We have a Lucas and a Marcus as victims and only lack a Matthæus and Johannes in having the four gospels and the lord on the manor that is the only one to recognize the heart and innocence of Lucas could be a God character. In that case you might say that the message is that only divine intervention can save a guy from false accusations of pedophilia, but even God cannot save him from the mob. Maybe. I am not sure of this interpretation.
The real turning point is when Theo realizes that deep down he does not believe that Lucas has done harm to his daughter and is ashamed of what has happened to Lucas. The act of mutual forgiveness happens of all nights on Christmas Eve and is a scene of true heartbreak between two men with very few words.
Then we get a rather unsatisfying jump to one year later where apparently everybody has forgotten about the incidents and everybody are happy. It feels truly odd and hypocrite and may be a reference to Thomas Vinterbergs earlier movie “Festen”, but this is in fact a typical Danish reaction. Now all is well and let us forget the ugly past as if it never happened. But it did and it is not forgotten as Lucas soon finds out when somebody tries to arrange a hunting accident and nearly makes it. The suspicion of the mob is still there and may never go away. Nothing can ever clear you of suspicion of pedophilia.
I liked this movies a lot more than I expected. This may be Thomas Vinterberg’s best film since “Festen” and the nomination as Best Foreign Language Movie at the Academy Awards was well deserved. What works here is the realism. As terrible as it sounds I could easily imagine it played out in reality. Certainly the actions and reactions are very realistic. Following the release of the movie there was some criticism that the kindergarten in the movie did not follow official policies in the matter and that the story would never have gotten out in public in a real situation, but that kindergarten leader is not an unusual character type and the reaction of the parents is not unusual. I have seen it played on less serious charges. A united front of parents is a force to be reckoned with and they do not need proof, but can, in their mindless fury, make a big show out of small things.