Thursday, August 15, 2013
One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is the first season's "Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," in which the humanity of a sleepy American suburb quickly dissolves when rumours that a monster is in their midst start to spread. To me, Twilight Zone was at its best when it was unabashedly tuning into that Cold War mistrust and fear of one's neighbour. If it used to be a far-out idea that an individual in the community was capable of monstrosity ("He seemed like such a nice guy..."), we seem to have arrived at a place where we assume that anyone could not be who they seem, anyone could be capable of whatever horror we ourselves are able to dream up. The tone would be a little different, but I can imagine Rod Serling supplying one of his weather-worn velvet introductions to Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt.
Mads Mikkelsen, everyone's favorite Dane, plays Lucas, everyone's favorite preschool teacher. As loving and at ease as he is with the kids, there's a stiffness to Lucas, a perfect posture that seems almost uncomfortable, as through he's recovering from some severe break. Indeed, he's divorced, though we don't quite know how freshly or why. Lucas's community within the Danish hunting village is small. His best friend Theo lives a stone's throw down the street, and he spends weekends with a generations-deep hunting club. As we're introduced to Lucas and his community, we get the idea that these relationships have sturdy roots.
Theo's young daughter Klara is slightly withdrawn, more a resident of her own head than the village. She's afraid to step on cracks or any lined pattern, and so walks with her head down and gets lost easily. Lucas is often the one to find her, her own parents being reliably tardy or vaguely unavailable. A puppy love develops, but when Lucas reacts to a kiss on the lips with a gentle reprimand, Klara quickly turns moody, and that bad mood, tainted with some untoward information she gleans from her teen aged brother, has her mumble to the daycare leader that Lucas has done something inappropriate.
Cue the Twilight Zone theme.
It may seem a bit extreme to compare the fallout accompanying accusations of pedophilia to some eldritch Serling-esque scenario, but as Lucas's life is slowly and then violently dismantled on account of Klara's passing, innocent fib, I can't think of a better example of weirdness and alienation and reality being upended. The demonizing of Lucas becomes all the more surreal and existential because, for the viewer, there is no doubt of his innocence. "Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" quickly becomes "Terror At 20,000 Feet" as Lucas's declarations of innocence are not even entertained by the village.
I can think of few topics more or as repellent as pedophilia, and I don't doubt that some people will steer clear of The Hunt on the sheer basis of subject matter. But if you can stomach the fact that repugnance resounds in our world, do take the time to see The Hunt. Morally--especially in that empathetic corner of morality, the "What would I do?" corner--Vinterberg's film is compelling and challenging in a very rare way. Because it can be sometimes uncomfortable feeling doesn't mean The Hunt isn't one of the best movies of the year.