One lie. That’s all it takes to completely decimate one person’s life. Out of the mouth of babes can oft come gems, but also deadly slander that leads to public scandal and personal destruction. In a small Danish village that’s what happens to Lucas (Mads Mikkelson), a sympathetic kindergarten teacher, who generally cares for his kids, while he tries to maintain a relationship with his teenage son Marcus, who is the casualty of divorce. It’s not easy for Lucas either, but he finds solace in his work and the companionship of his coworker Nadja, who moves in with him. On top of that, he is well-liked in his community which includes his close friend Theo, who has a son and a little girl Klara — dearly fond of Lucas’s dog Fanny.
But in one instant Klara makes the life of her adult friend a living hell. In a moment of confusion, she makes a confession to her teacher. Both surprised and worried, the information sends all sorts of alarms off in Grethe’s head and Lucas is relieved of his position quickly. Next, Klara’s parents are brought in and soon the rest of the community is let in on the troubling news. The following contradictory statements brought forth by Klara are quickly dismissed. After all, she has been thoroughly traumatized by Lucas. He’s arrested but finally released because the testimonies of the children do not add up. Still, he’s now labeled as a sexual predator and ostracized by everyone. His former friends have turned against him, and he is no longer welcome in the local grocery store.
The only place he can turn is his friend Bruun, who does not abandon him, as well as his son Marcus. That does not do any good for faithful Fanny as the witch hunt continues. The sequence of events has the Christmas holiday as its backdrop, and it seems like peace on earth and goodwill towards men need not apply to Lucas. In one potent moment, the solemn outcast wanders into church for service, only to be forced to sit in a pew all alone. There gathered around him are all the people who have destroyed his life. All the people who professed to be his friends, and yet quickly turned on him.
His response is uncalled for perhaps, but certainly not unwarranted. Theo is deeply affected and it only takes listening to the listless whisperings of his little girl to know that Lucas is innocent. They make peace on Christmas day and things die down.
Time passes. Lucas is happy. He’s back with Nadja. Marcus is about to get his rite of passage as a hunter. Everyone’s friends again. But still, there’s something not quite right. In the final moments, the motif of a hunt takes on deeper meaning. The drama has all but subsided and yet it still lingers. Lucas is still being hunted even if it’s only in his dreams.
After the Wedding gave me tremendous respect for Mads Mikkelson as an actor, and The Hunt only solidified that conviction. He is facially so recognizable and expressive. Not exactly a handsome face, but there is a raw beauty to it, and it is wonderful for expressing a broad spectrum of temperaments. It can be an evil mug or a sympathetic face revealing layers of anguish. In many ways it’s a great enigma, so reserved and yet so emotive. Thomas Vinterberg’s bare-boned film rides on Mikkelson’s shoulders, and he is able to carry the weight brilliantly.