02/05/2016

The Hunt - The Inevitable Stain

Thoughts On: The Hunt

Lucas, a nursery teacher, is accused of sexual abuse by one of his students who is also his best friend's daughter. The result, a crushing downward spiral.


Films, in a very broad sense, can be put into one of two categories. There's films, and then there's movies. Movies are stereotypically your blockbusters and they come out of Hollywood, whilst films have smaller budgets and come from the foreign market. I don't completely agree with this though, a better way to look at the two terms is that movies are primarily entertaining. Films on the other hand have a much stronger underlying artistic intent, they are, in short, more mature. To best explain, examples of movies include Avengers, Pulp Fiction, The Good The Bad The Ugly and Back To The Future. Examples of films would be The Godfather, Requiem For A Dream, Irreversible and The Shawshank Redemption. There are harder examples to define, for instance, Fight Club. It's incredibly entertaining, but only to portray it's underlying message, so, I's say it's a film, but some might disagree. The point of me saying this though is that I've been looking at a lot of movies recently. We've had a whole load of westerns, Bill & Ted, Captain America, I'd even say Zootopia was a movie. This doesn't mean they can't have deeper messages (just read the posts), but what we're going to delve into today is very mature cinema. Mature doesn't mean blood, guts, sex and violence. Mature means complex and challenging. We aren't exposed much to these kinds of films very often. This is because they are the most difficult to pull of and the hardest to sell. You probably read the intro to this post and, if you haven't seen it already, I bet you don't really want to see this film. If you have then you know how hard it is to recommend. Plot synopses are used to excite, to entice, or at least, that's what we've grown to expect. One of the best examples of all time of this very idea comes from Alien: 'Jaws in space'. A three word pitch. But, this only drives a bias in us toward movies. I have this bias myself. When I go to the movies I usually go with friends, and we always go see the huge blockbusters: Star Wars, Batman V Superman, Captain America: Civil War, such and so on (like most of us probably do). I usually catch smaller films on DVD or T.V a while after they come out. Personally, I prefer things this way as the best, and my favourite films, are quite personal. I like to watch them alone. I would probably slit someone's throat if they were sat in front of me whilst Sunrise8 1/2 or something else I love was playing and they took out their phone or started talking. I can bear this with the likes of Captain America though as the film's loud, shouty and doesn't require much involvement. A film like The Hunt though is precious to me and is a reason why films are very important. Though it is very mature, hard to recommend, any and everyone (of age) should see it. This is one of the greatest films ever made - especially in terms of narrative and message. So if you haven't seen it... come on.

This film is largely about isolation and a changing of the norm. It's plotting and narrative direction is, as a result, very key. We trace through from a low point in the protagonist's (Lucas') life to the depths of doubt and desertion that contort our character's very core. So, to explore this we're going to move through the narrative chronologically, exploring symbols, images and ideas. To start, we have the title: The Hunt or Jagten. I forgot to mention, this is a Danish picture. Not that that matters. Subtitles aren't and shouldn't be considered a problem - I won't rant though. The title connotes an idea of witch trials or hunts. This is a huge element of the film and is very common from works such as The Crucible, or even more recently The Witch and Zootopia. This is the modern day equivalent of the plague in my opinion - and this film stands as testament to that. The mob mentality in this sense is shown to be the product of ambiguity, of acting on the little information given. That's just the film's basis however, over the narrative we're going to see this title's meaning evolve. So, this takes us to the opening image or scene of the film. It's a group of naked middle-aged men jumping into a freezing cold river. A little childish, but fun nonetheless. Play is a recurrent idea and leads to the exploration of Lucas' character. Before that, he must be introduced. One of the first men to jump into the lake gets a cramp and so Lucas jumps into save him (not a dramatic moment) fully clothed. Now, this is a very important opening image. We have a group of men acting a little childish as a few passerbys laugh along with them. They aren't doing something entirely appropriate (getting naked in the middle of a park) but what they're doing is more or less socially acceptable. This engages the symbol of the icy water. The men are jumping into a hostile, unforgiving place for the sake of endurance--a test. Lucas is the one who approaches the situation with the greatest maturity, helping his friend and not disrobing. This shows his character to be a little modest, reserved and quite analytical. Nonetheless, he fits in with all his boys and is able to endure hostility.

Next, we come to Lucas' work place - the nursery (kindergarten). Kids hide, waiting for him to come through the gate. Lucas' knows this (routine) and so take his glasses of. The glasses are key to Lucas' image. Not only do they allow him to see clearly, but they change his facade, they make him a more harmless figure. So, when he takes them off, he sees less clear, but is ready for action - such as the kids jumping on him. In this we can see a conflict of weakness and of irony. Firstly, the kids hiding, preparing an attack obviously nods to events to come (irony). But, with the glasses on Lucas looks weaker. With them off, he is disadvantaged, and in a certain respect weakened. This however allows him to put up a more aggressive facade - even if it is just to play with the kids. So, through his simple facade we get quite a lot of incite into Lucas' character. Moving on, one of the first things Lucas does when the day starts is take one of the kids to the toilet, he even has to wipe his ass. Such is life, sometimes kids need their buts wiped. But, what this event is demonstrating is the responsibility and trust Lucas holds. It's easy to forget what a nursery actually is. It's a building in which parents leave their babies in the hands of strangers. We'll stop here so you can ask yourself how you feel about that idea. It sounds scary at the least, maybe a little insane. Why is this? It's because we have an inherent distrust of people, and rightly so. In this idea we have a very important concept of this film. Fear. Moreover, there is a gender bias presented. As is shown in the film, women are the primary carers of children -  there are five or more women working at the nursery with Lucas as the only man. I think it's fair to say that it's easier to trust a woman with your child than a man. Now, the reflex to this statement as a viewer or outsider is to say, 'no, men are trust worthy'. Of course they are, but that's not what our biases tell us and is what the film is setting up. We see Lucas wiping the kids ass and we're fine with it, why shouldn't we be? From the parents and coworkers perspective they too are comfortable. But flash forward to the core conflict of the film and their prejudices start weighing in on them, massively. We'll come to that in a moment though. After setting up the trust Lucas holds as well as his responsibility, we soon get more insight into his back story. That being that he's separated from his son's mother and is only seeing him every so often. There is also the beginnings of a romance with a new, foreign, coworker in the nursery founded. But amidst this we meet some very key characters.

The first is Klara, the little girl that will go on to accuse Lucas of misconduct. This is a character I, on first viewing, did not pay enough attention to. For what she does, it is easy to dislike, maybe even hate her. This is a grave mistake, a massive misinterpretation of the film. We'll come to this when appropriate, but the key to understanding her comes with her introduction. She's a quiet girl and her parents aren't getting along very well. Her dad is of course Lucas' best friend, Theo. With her parents arguing a lot, Klara runs away from home quite often - but it's a small town and everyone knows each other, so it's not a massive issue. However, Klara gets lost in her own world a lot, its said that she has a very vivid imagination. This means that when she runs away, she loses track of where she is going as she constantly stepping over the cracks, or lines, in the pavement. Maybe this is a childish mannerism, or possibly a minor compulsive disorder, but, in terms of narrative this is a metaphor. There's two ways you can look at this. I'm pretty sure everyone's heard the rhyme: 'step on a crack you break your mother's back'. What this phrase means and where it is derived from I'm not sure, but it doesn't matter because we all say it as kids who have no clue what we're saying. There is an element of irrational fear here though. Also this links into a (in my opinion) better interpretation of what her compulsivity means. Slabs of pavement are stable, you know where you stand and are not disrupting any sense of order. With the 'step on a crack' rhyme we can link this to her family. She senses precariousness and so seeks safety, security, a safe place to stand without hurting her mother, father or family. Moreover, you may also say that this idea links into isolation and seclusion. Lines or cracks are divisions. What Klara ends up doing (by accusing Lucas) is stepping on the boundaries between people - this is what we as an audience do as well. We explore boundaries, relations and how they can be stepped on - broken - by watching the film. Understanding this, we can sympathise with Klara all the better. But another key symbol here is Fanny, Lucas' dog.

Fanny represents stability in Lucas. The dog has been conditioned to bark every time it hears the name of his ex-wife. This is representative of Lucas' reflex and introduces a huge idea. Over the course of the narrative Lucas is playing a balancing act with his emotions. As a reserved character this is quite hard as he isn't very expressive, and so, he isn't granted much catharsis. Fanny gives him stability as she allows him a cathartic release. In other words, she's there to bark each time the subject of his ex-wife comes up, but she's also there as a friend. This is best seen with the phone call Lucas makes to his wife. He gets through it not saying her name, being denied access to his child over and over, a boundary being secured. She tells him he cannot call her. He needs to talk though and she won't call him. He is trapped - and he's left stuck, the phone put down on him as he says her name. His arms drop in despair, but Fanny starts barking. She emotes what Lucas can't. Now, the biggest connection between Klara and Lucas is the dog. Fanny, as a symbol for stability, appeals to Klara because of how unstable she feels her home life is. It may not be in a severe state, but an argument means a lot more to a young child than it does adults, or even older children. Fanny catalyses her bond to Lucas. Not only is he nice, a calm presence, not only does he care for her most of the day, play, teach, but he is consistent. As a result he essentially becomes her key father figure. This bond between the two is reinforced by their meetings (Klara having ran away from home but only to be found by Lucas). Whilst he is her surrogate father, she becomes his daughter. They both fill gaps for one another. But, in comes prejudice again. How comfortable would you feel seeing a man walking alone down the street with a little girl that showed no resemblance to him? A man who's main connection to the girl is the fact he has a dog and is lonely? In context this image is fine, but without it, probably not.

We have one more key introductory moment before we can move faster through the film and into its core ideas. Moving toward the second act we come to a short, but very significant, moment in which Lucas is hunting. He manages to shoot a deer. Now, exactly what this means will be revealed later, but the deer is obviously prey, a symbol of weakness. Deer live their lives walking a very thin line. This could reflect something about Lucas. The way into this image comes with the proceeding two events. Firstly, we find out Lucas is hunting with his friends. Again, we have another social moment, but this isn't just play like before. This is a little more serious. Hunting is a way to prove oneself to be a man. It demonstrates one's capacity to survive alone. This is very important and speaks volumes for Lucas' character as he is one of the few who manage to hit a deer. In this respect, The Hunt is very similar to The Deer Hunter, but I won't go into that as there's enough to play with here already - I'll leave it to your imagination and the comments. So, we've established that Lucas is a character capable of carrying himself. Our next event here is very interesting. Nadja, the coworker who he quite likes, calls him. They arrange a meeting, his friends give him a cheer and then the two meet and have sex. What we have are three clear moments of social reinforcement. There's killing the deer, hanging with friends and meeting a woman. That pretty much ticks off everything you need to do to be a man (symbolically). You prove that you can provide (killing the deer). You prove that you can fit in with other men, competing, engaging in camaraderie. And then you seal it all off by proving your sexual worth. These are the final moments before act 2 and the introduction of the major conflict. Lucas has shown himself to be a significant social member of a community, his life looks like it's getting better. His boy is moving in with him, he's met a new woman, work's good, relations are strong, but then it all crumbles. He's been set up to fall.

The next segment of of the film is phenomenal. Through blocking and camera placement each step toward disaster is crystal clear. Klara confuses her feelings of affection towards a fatherly figure with a crush. And this coincides with a rather sorry sexual awakening. Her brother's stupid friend decides to shove porn in her face. This moment isn't just senseless and decisive though - we can see this through direction of the camera. We do not see the faces of the two boys when Klara is shown the porn. This means they aren't of importance and aren't acting in a way deserving of our attention. But, there's more to this. The brother's friend starts shouting about the porn, making clear that its nothing more than a social device. Just like Lucas was affirmed for calling Nadja, then hooking up with her, the friend is looking for confirmation in his sexuality too. This is shown to catalyse Klara's choice to kiss Lucas. Firstly, she is counting lines when the boys come up the stairs. This is her symbol of social insecurity and so the porn as a device to socially affirm is much more poignant here. She sees that to be socially affirmed herself she must also engage in sexual conduct: kissing Lucas, giving him the heart. But, the response to this is negative. This embarrasses Klara hugely, she denies sexuality, she denies liking Lucas. To deflect her anxiety and general negativity surrounding this she sulks until she's asked what's wrong. She then takes this new found idea that sexuality is bad and uses it against Lucas. Here we can see the cycle of social acts, demonstrating that in the right context any behaviour can be good, but in the wrong contexts, bad things happen and you end up an outcast. Klara's deflection of this negativity, of being outcast slightly, is passed onto Lucas, but because of his authoritative figure, the responsibility he owns, the consequences are multiplied exponentially. This raises a very profound question. What Lucas is forced to ask himself over and over is: who am I?

'Who am I?' is a very common existential question ask by almost everyone - and quite a lot of the time. It's pretty much a cliche actually. The only time you ever hear this question asked out loud is in a comedy sketch portraying a hipster or manic depressive of sorts. This is because it's a stupid question. 'Who am I?' is a relative question and its answer cannot be articulated. You are who you see yourself as, or who you are seen as. This means you are everything you know about yourself. If I ask you who you are, the answer you give is going to be your name. And this is because, to you, your name holds all of that information - everything you know about yourself. In this respect, you are your name, the title you give yourself. Moreover, people see you as the label they give you. To your mother, you are her child, her little boy or girl that has (or hasn't really) grown up. To that kid you once picked on, you are nothing more than an asshole. Yet, both the kid and your mum call you the same thing: (INSERT NAME). This is the key idea behind the film. Lucas knows who he is, he's Lucas. His friends know who he is, he's Lucas. His son, wife, girlfriend, students know who he is, he's Lucas. 'Lucas' clearly means many things, but these many definitions aren't too different. however, what happens when new information about him presents itself is that those many definitions change. Suddenly, Lucas isn't Lucas any more. His perceived, social, facade (the way people see him) now contradicts the way he sees himself. So, the answer to 'who am I?' is not only intangible, but variable, ever changing and contradicting. Quite profound, huh? This idea is explored in many ways in other films, some of the best examples are Black Swan and Hook. So, if the subject interests you I recommend those links, that said, identity in this respect interests me too (I'm not talking about genders and sexual orientation by the way). Check out more on what I have to say on the subjects here and here. Anyway...

With ideas personal identity being attacked, there too comes a question of normality. This manifests itself both situationally and then in Lucas' character. Norm of course changes when he loses his job, his girlfriend, friends, respect, responsibility, routine - his place in society. Internally he's forced to question his own sanity, forced to question what is normal. Normal of course is a very simple concept, it is what's obvious, it's the average person. Lucas is made to think he's insane because everyone else is acting that way toward him. But, are you really the sane one in a world full of crazy people? No. That's what tears Lucas apart. This internal questioning can also be tracked in the minor characters. It all starts with the children. A conscious lie becomes a convoluted statement that is reaffirmed by the adults, eventually being seen as a truth. Imagination is a key idea here. It's both the imagination of children and adults that make this situation escalate so much, so fast. The adults, when presented with something as serious as their children being assaulted, must assume the worst. This may sound irrational, but, contextually, it isn't. In the courts of law, the accused can be considered innocent until proven guilty. This is because the process of justice must be pragmatic and calculated. As a parent faced with the possibility of your child being molested, or worse, raped, taking the guilty until proven innocent stance is perfectly understandable, acceptable even. These are all idea touched on in Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance and Old Boy). Lady Vengeance is most relevant here so make sure you check those films out. The point here is that the parents of the children can be understood in this film, but, characters such as teachers and other townspeople probably don't reserve the rights they do--at least in my opinion. The imagination of the children can be blamed here also. They seem to be simply filling in gaps, being swept up by a near hysteria. It's in this that the title of the film is reaffirmed. What Lucas endures is a witch hunt of sorts like that in The Witch, The Crucible or even Zootopia. He's accused of being something he's not, a feared symbol (a pedophile) and is attacked. This cannot be expressed more poignantly than watching the film, so we're going to jump to a big turn...

In the second act Lucas' son, Marcus, enters the picture. He is of course effected by what is happening to Lucas, but, Marcus seems to be bearing the 'sins' of his father. This is a revelatory moment in the film that must be recognised to understand it's entire message. It's when Marcus goes to Theo's (Klara's dad's) house that this is made clear. It's said in the dialogue that Marcus shouldn't feel responsible, much less the effects, of his father being accused. But, in a later visit that exact thing does happen. Marcus is beaten up, not given a chance to question Klara. However, it's hard to say who is right and who is wrong in this situation. Klara doesn't deserve to be interrogated and, especially from the parent's perspective, he could only bully the answer he wants to hear from her. From this there is an escalation, friends step in, get hit and hit back. There is a cycle of perspectives here. The parents won't accept Klara saying Lucas didn't expose himself to her and Marcus won't accept the idea that Lucas did. However, both are in the dark, they work from their gut. This turns this film into an Us vs. Them picture. In short, small groups form and oppose one another. This makes clear Lucas' decision to kick Nadja out. She wasn't close enough to him to become apart of his 'us'. She too felt this as expressed through her momentary doubt. The 'us vs. them' dichotomy is what fuels the remainder of the film and draws us toward its final message. The biggest conflict of the narrative is the fight in the food store. But this isn't simple injustice, this is life or death, quite literally. Lucas lives in a small town, where else is he going to get his food? If he can't eat he's going to die. This is important because at this stage his friend Bruun hasn't extending much of a helping hand. It's at this point that Lucas hit bottom, where he is truly alone. Here, we can revise a sad game I talk about quite often: what if I were alone? The rules are simple, you present a bad situation, such as having a town outcast you, and then ask what if you had no help. This is what Lucas is faced with, he's beaten down over and over until he has to fight back. The significance of this being in the food store is the link to the deer. This is Lucas reaffirming that he can look after himself, that he can get his own food, fight for it if he must. That said, the headbutt he deals is probably the most cathartic blow ever dealt on film.

There's something else that occurs in this period of Lucas' life. Fanny is killed by an unknown figure. Lucas' symbol of stability is taken from him. This is what drives him towards aggression, what forces him to fight back. You'll also notice here that Lucas' glasses more or less disappear. He has, in a certain sense, become the deer - hunted. But by taking away clarity (stability; Fanny; glasses) he can become more aggressive and combat the predators. This takes us to the third act and the culmination of these conflicts. After fighting back at the store, Lucas goes homes to clean up so he can go to church. This is significant because it's Christmas eve. Another major social event that brings the theme of isolation to the forefront. But, the subtext of the church scene is what is most interesting. With the whole town around him and the children in front of him Lucas looks over his shoulder, waiting for judgment after Theo says 'I see it in his eyes'. But, what exactly? Lucas can't bear to wait for the verdict. But, let's pause the moment. Underlying this tense sequence, is the bible being read from and the children singing, and because it's Christmas eve they of course sing and talk about Jesus. This juxtaposition between Lucas and Jesus is very interesting. Both endured persecution, were betrayed. Lucas standing in defiance could be an objection to the idea that one must suffer at the hands of others, loving his neighbour. I don't much like this reading though. The juxtaposition is not between Lucas and Jesus, but Marcus, Lucas' son and Jesus, the son of God (as is repeated in the bible reading). Staring back at Theo we can sense that nothing is going to happen, it's clear that he isn't going to stand up and demand Lucas leave the church, much less get in a fight with him. He's merely going to whisper behind his back. What Lucas foresees here is his complete desertion. After that day it seems clear that he will always be seen as the paedophile - and the children singing only remind him of this. He went to the church to prove that he could fit in. He refuses to act like a criminal. Nonetheless he's treated like one. His life is ruined, nothing is going to fix that. His 'sins' are likely to be passed onto his son. This is the reason why Marcus is juxtaposed with Jesus. Marcus will fight by his father's side (as shown) and will probably be the one to feel the greatest effects of his father being accused. He may not meet a girl for the rest of his life, never have friends, children - all of which Lucas had. Lucas stands because he won't have his son live a tortured life.

Having made his stand, Theo is forced to reflect. And so, on Christmas day he reconciles with Lucas bring him food and alcohol. You could argue that here the wine is symbolic of Jesus' blood, but I don't see much sense in this interpretation. If Marcus holds the image of Christ in his foreshadowed suffering, why should they drink his blood? I prefer the recurrent image of alcohol. It's a sign of society between the men, when they're drunk, they get along, they're happy. This also links back into the idea of 'play'. But, with the first half of the third act, it seems that this film is a religious one, implying that evil can be overcome as people can hold onto one another and watch it simply go away (paraphrasing Theo's words to Klara here). The answer to this proposition, however, comes with the very end of the film. We end with Lucas' son becoming a man, solidifying the idea that this is about their relationship. The crux of the film is the concept of consequence and how our actions influence others. Lucas fights because he is trying to show his son the way to live, how to interact with the strange and precarious society around them. That said, in the passing year all is forgotten and this is symbolised with the party as well as Klara and Lucas' final interaction. Checkered floor (lots of lines) stops her from passing across a room. This shows that with the forgiveness of Lucas must have came shame or doubt cast on her (even if it was just implied). The ground she must step on is complex, full of lines and boundaries. When Lucas lifts her over he's making a symbolic gesture toward forgiveness. However, the moment is stilted, it seems awkward and fake. We'll come back to this idea. Before that we must recognise that another symbolic gesture is made. Lucas gives his son the family gun. He's passing down a means of protecting himself. This is because Marcus is about to become a man, step out into life's jungle/forest. He will face challenges like his father did, but will hopefully have the capacity to overcome. This takes us to the last moments of the film which occur in a forest - a symbol of the unforgiving society they live in. Lucas ends up with his gun pointed at a deer again, but he can't shoot. There's many ways we can look at this, we can infer that he sees the deer as prey like he was, weak, a gun pointed at his back. This idea is reinforced by the fact that he himself is shot and at - and by a person. This means that despite lifting Klara over the lines, what happened a year ago can never be forgotten, only pushed to the back of people's minds.

Another interpretation of what the deer could symbolise is his son. By hunting he has rejoined his social group, that which betrayed him. By doing this, recognising that what happened to him can never be forgotten, he is almost betraying his son. Is he aiming the gun at his son, putting him in danger again? Well, this idea is also supported by the fact he's then shot at by a figure. His son was of course closest to him, the only one who'd know where he is. It could be Marcus that shoots at his father, maybe just in warning. If not literally, metaphorically. Marcus in this instance would be Lucas' projection, reminding that he can't really trust his friends, or be lulled into a false sense of security around them. He must have his guard up at all times for the sake of his son. This cycles back to the very beginning. Whilst we were comfortable without prejudice, without thinking about Lucas as a threat to the children, Lucas cannot do this. He's been mistreated to such an extreme he can never trust another again. This means that the message of the film is that actions should be calculated, that we should think of consequences before persecuting others. 'The Hunt', in this respect. is for the truth. I personally don't like this interpretation though. It's very basic and looks over many elements. I think it's obvious that this film is an objection to simplistic moral tales, such as the most famous of all - Jesus' crucifixion. I don't like the moral outline of Jesus' sacrifice. It implies that one must suffer for us all, that we aren't capable of saving ourselves. Peace and passivity are admirable qualities, but they should never be unconditional. That's what the film makes clear. We should always fight back. Don't accept life as it is. In this sense, it doesn't matter who the figure is who shot at him. If it was so important then we would have seen who it was. For me, the figure is any and everyone, most probably men. The figure is Lucas' network of friends, his son and himself. Who can he trust? That is the lasting effect of the film. It makes clear that there are lines between people, that they can be crossed, blurred, destroyed. The film makes clear the capacity of others, good and bad. We should always be prepared to fight back, we should definitely have our guard up at all times. The Hunt is not a search for truth, or persecution, it's a looming threat. The one thing we can never be sure of is if we are the hunter or the hunted. What is irrefutable however is the fact that there is a hunt and that we're apart of it.

All in all The Hunt is an amazing film because it doesn't want to bullshit you. There is no happy ending, there is a simple exposure of the truth. Bad things happen, situations escalate. Good things can happen, situations may also deescalate. No matter the ups and downs, we need to recognise that we are on a roller coaster, that we need to be strapped in, shoe laces tied, belongings secured in pockets and our hands kept inside the ride at all times.





Previous post:

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - Rewriting History

Next post:

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory - We've All Been Duped!

More from me:

amazon.com/author/danielslack

No comments: