When a film dramatizes a credible situation—as A Hijacking recently did—and holds you
in its grip, even as it makes you squirm with discomfort, that’s storytelling
above and beyond the norm. Danish writer-director Thomas Vinterberg, who helped
to forge the international Dogme movement in the 1990s, aims at both the head
and the heart with The Hunt, which he
wrote with Tobias Lindholm (who made A
Hijacking). It doesn’t hurt that he has, as his star, the gifted actor Mads
The subject is deceptively simple: a divorced schoolteacher
is working, temporarily, at a neighborhood kindergarten where he is a devoted
caretaker of the rowdy young children. One of them, a precious five-year-old
girl who lives next door—and is, in fact, the daughter of his closest
friend—gets angry with him one day and tells the kindergarten supervisor that he
did something inappropriate with her. The woman is shocked but knows it is
imperative that she act. The problem: he is considered guilty from the moment
the issue is raised, and not even the child can undo what’s been done. He’s a
marked man. Only we in the audience know for certain that he is innocent.
The power of The Hunt
is that forces us to ponder how we would respond in a similar situation. Would
we shun a lifelong friend or believe a 5-year-old with a vivid imagination?
Could we ever look at a neighbor the same way after hearing such an accusation?
The characters in Vinterberg and Lindholm’s screenplay are
not symbolic. They’re real people, leading imperfect lives; they don’t always
make good choices. But we can relate to their feelings, and their actions, at
every turn of this searing drama. And we come to understand that there are no
easy solutions once this particular snowball starts rolling.
The Hunt is as
riveting as any Hollywood thriller but it contains no hint of contrivance or
melodrama. It’s as powerful as a punch to the gut.