The Hunt (2012)
Written by Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Lucas has ended up at preschool after budget cuts to the high school. Despite the significant shift in students’ ages, Lucas has made the transition fairly smoothly, looking after the young children of many of his friends. One of those children is Klara, a five-year-old who develops a crush on the man. During playtime at the school, Klara kisses Lucas on the lips which stuns him. He quietly admonishes her and moves on. That evening Klara sits waiting for her mother to pick her up she strikes up a conversation with the headmistress of preschool. Jumbling together her embarrassment over Lucas and pornography she saw her brother and his friend looking at earlier she rattles off a story about Lucas showing her his genitals. This snowballs until multiple children in the town are also claiming to have been abused by Lucas, caught up in a mob mentality. Lucas’ standing in the community quickly crumbles to pieces as does his sanity.
The Hunt was inspired by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus who has written extensively about false memory and how humans can have their perceptions of reality altered by coercion. The result is that a person, especially children, can completely believe in events that never took place. In the 1980s, the McMartin Preschool became the center of a media blitz which started with rumors of an employee touching a student and ballooned into seven members of the staff kidnapping children on a plane and taking them to an undisclosed location to make pornography. It turned out the mother who made the first acusation was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. What made matters worse is how investigators asked children about what happened at the preschool using very leading questions.
I don’t believe Vinterberg intends to make a film about how people are falsely accused of child molestation, but he uses real-life incidents of false memory as a jumping off point to explore group mentality surrounding false reality. Early on in the film, Lucas is talking with his best friend Theo, Klara’s father, about Lucas’ custody issues and Theo remarks that “I can tell when you are lying.” Later, Theo assaults Lucas when the teacher comes to his home to explain there has been a horrible misunderstanding. What proven in this scene is that Theo does not possess an objective ability to distinguish truth from lies when his own emotions come into the picture. This is why our society employs independent investigators whom we trust will get to the fact without allowing their personal feelings to interfere.
Vinterberg continually emphasizes that the belief in the lie and its momentum in the community doesn’t come from a place of hatred or spite for Lucas. These are people genuinely concerned about the well-being of their children, so it is telling how quickly their fears come to the surface, implying this is something they walk around in terror of at all times. It’s so easy for them to believe it because for as close as they are as a community they ultimately do not trust each other. Their camaraderie is a social construct performed so that existing alongside each other is as painless as possible.
It’s vital that Klara eventually confesses that she doesn’t understand what happened anymore because the adults around her constantly shore up the lie, even though she has doubts and thinks she said it to be mean. Her brother, unknowingly the one who exposed her to graphic adult sex via the internet, becomes stricken over the stories about what happened to his sister and takes drastic action in the final act of the film. We also see that Lucas is acquited when the stories don’t match the physical evidence, yet for the community, it has been collectively decided that Lucas is guilty. There are no traditional villains in The Hunt, with the “bad guy” being human beings’ faulty memories.