Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hunt (Jagten)

THE HUNT (Jagten)        A-          
Denmark  (115 mi)  2012  ‘Scope  d:  Thomas Vinterberg          Official site

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

—Gustav Holst, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” words by Christina Georgina Rossetti  King's College Cambridge 2005 #4 In the Bleak Midwinter Gustav ... YouTube (4:35)

Historically, we think of women accused of witchcraft being burned at the stake, depicted in Carl Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) and DAY OF WRATH (1943), where Sweden in the 17th century executed as many as 71 accused witches in a single day, where the vast majority were women, estimated at more than 75%.  While the hysteria surrounding these witch hunts is well documented in Europe and North America, there is a similar outcry against those men accused of child molestation, the subject of Fritz Lang’s brilliant police procedural M (1931), where Peter Lorre is the psychopathic pedophile who can’t stop himself from kidnapping and murdering little girls.  In Lang’s film, the criminal element detested the crime as much as the police and the general public, actually putting the criminal on trial before a jury of his peers, other criminals, where the police break in just before they are about to put him to death.  Another spellbinding effort is Todd Field’s LITTLE CHILDREN (2006), where Jackie Earle Haley is a convicted pedophile who is forced to register his whereabouts with the police, whose address is then posted by community do-gooders throughout the town, notifying his neighbors, writing inflammatory graffiti on his sidewalk, literally hounding him wherever he goes.  The hysteria surrounding his presence in a public pool filled with little children is simply unforgettable.  In a sense, these are all FRANKENSTEIN (1931) movies with a riled up mob carrying torches, shovels, and pitchforks chasing a monster through the forests, where it all feels like a bad dream or a figment of our imagination, where afterwards we have to ask ourselves:  Did that really happen?  Vinterberg re-introduces similar thoughts in a close-knit but small town rural atmosphere, where local tradition sends the men into the forests with guns, where the sign of passing from adolescence into manhood is the first instance of killing wild game, where the men get excessively drunk afterwards to celebrate, singing hunting songs and expressing camaraderie while they continually drink themselves into a stupor.           

Mads Mikkelsen is Lucas, something of a gentle giant, whose imposing size does not detract from his love of children, allowing all the boys to pile on top of him at school where he works as a kindergarten teacher.  One fearfully shy and particularly vulnerable little girl, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), is often left alone after school where Lucas kindly walks her home, as she’s the daughter of his best friend and next door neighbor, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen).  Lucas oddly lives alone in one of the more palatial estates in town, where he’s going through a particularly messy divorce, rarely able to see his teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), who he adores, made more difficult by an ex-wife that refuses to talk to him on the phone.  Lucas has a newly developing love interest, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), a Russian immigrant that works at the school, which coincides with an anticipated visit from Marcus, who would prefer to be living with his father.  All happiness is thwarted, however, by a relatively minor incident, where Karla wants to jump on top of Lucas along with the rest of the boys, planting a big kiss on his mouth, where she’s sternly admonished by Lucas afterwards who reminds her that kissing on the mouth is only for parents and family.  But this causes a certain hurtful embarrassment to Karla, seen alone sitting in the dark after school, still brooding about the incident, discovered by the school principal Grethe (Susse Wold) when Karla inexplicably starts describing sexual images from a graphic porn site her brother was watching and attributes this to Lucas.  While Grethe is a concerned citizen who fears for the welfare of the school children, she calls in a child psychologist.  What’s immediately clear by the inappropriately leading questions and the school’s failure to include the parents in the interview is this town has no history in dealing with this matter, where their very lack of professionalism further inflames the situation, where the story only escalates, spreading ugly rumors behind the scenes, as soon other children start describing similar episodes, and before long not only the school and the parents, but the entire town viciously turns against Lucas, making him a pariah, where people are disgusted and revolted by his presence, shunned by his best friend, refused service in the local market, where even his girlfriend has doubts about his character. 

Succumbed by the mass hysteria, Lucas is the picture of disarray and personal turmoil, isolated in his lonely castle, afraid to come out, where there is nothing he can do or say that anyone would believe, as the general community belief is that “children don’t lie.”  Even as Karla confesses that Lucas didn’t do anything wrong, adults refuse to believe her, thinking this is a symptom of sexual abuse, where a child wants to believe nothing happened in order to protect themselves from the evil that did occur.  In all too many instances, that’s exactly what does happen, as memories are suppressed, and only after years of intensive therapy can one separate illusion from reality.  It may be 10 or 20 years before some severely traumatized sexual abuse victims realize what actually happened.  Vinterberg’s film is an interesting contrast to a recent Danish film also starring Mikkelsen, a historical depiction of a scandalous affair taking place in the 18th century royal court of Denmark in Nikolaj Arcel’s  A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære) (2012), while this film recalls Fritz Lang’s FURY (1936), William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), or Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), films where someone is wrongfully accused.  Vinterberg layers this lynch mob mentality in Christian beliefs, as Lucas becomes a Christ-like figure who is despised and rejected in a flurry of hatred, where church music, like Carl Nielsen’s “Mitt hjerte alltid vanker” Mitt hjerte alltid vanker - Carola - YouTube (4:08), the hauntingly sublime Michael Praetorius - 'Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen' - YouTube (2:15), or Gustav Holst’s Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” King's College Cambridge 2005 #4 In the Bleak Midwinter Gustav ... YouTube (4:35), become not only a countering Christmas message but also an ode to winter, a contrast to some of the bleakest and most despicable human behavior.  In this way, it’s hard “not” to identify with the wrongfully persecuted, where much of the raw and dramatic power of Mikkelsen’s staggering performance is his ability to absorb and endure the wrath of his enemies.  In this manner, there’s a certain texture to this film, especially the bleakness of winter, poetically rendered through a silent landscape or a child’s appreciation for the first snow The Hunt [Jagten] (2012) - Thomas Vinterberg - YouTube (1:28), or a single church seen as a gathering place where the entire community meets for Christmas services, where the town’s intolerance is thrust against the Biblical teachings of Christ, particularly as it reflects upon children, where the smallest among us have committed no sins, where the ire of indignation is squarely pointed in our own direction, where the film is in essence a commentary on evil, and how easily we tend to blame outsiders for all that’s wrong with the world, while we are the makers of our own misfortune.   

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