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Retrospective Film Review: Thomas Vinterberg’s Jagten

Sunday 23 November 2014

Vinterberg has dealt with the indelible mark borne by victims of abuse before (Submarino, Festen) but never with the allegation of abuse itself. Here, in his and Tobias Lindholm’s astonishing and deeply unsettling screenplay, we find Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) a single nursery-care worker, a diligent and protective presence for the kids under his supervision, and a good friend and active community member.

When one of the children with whom he is close, Klara, the daughter of his best friend Theo (Bo Larsen), unknowingly makes a clumsy advance on him, mistaking his fondness and attention for something alien and exciting, a sequence of events are set in motion, resolutely linear, with no possibility of reversal. The inhabitants of the small town near-unanimously and unapologetically turn on the wretched Lucas, his supposed crime too great a sin to warrant the chance of further rumination. The speed and depth to which he is ostracised is overwhelmingly painful to bear witness to, thanks to a credibly authentic performance from Mikkelsen, at once shocked, hurt, and then defiant at the sheer inequity and injury of the claim and the townsfolk who shun him.

In a way, we are all guilty of the very behaviour that costs Lucas his reputation, for we live in an age when the mere association of a name with that most heinous of crimes is enough to conclude and condemn before a verdict has had time to be returned. In one particularly telling scene, a child counsellor brought in to interview Klara is seen to ask what sounds awfully like leading questions, and indeed even Klara’s own mother, upon witnessing her daughter admitting she may have said “something foolish” that had got out of hand, dismisses her confession saying she’s confused, and urging her to continue in her fraud. And when other children begin to make similar claims, it is alluded to that their own parents are unintentionally giving their children’s assertions credence with well meant but misguided support and encouragement. These are people who have become victims of their own high vigilance. As Will Self recently suggested to author Louise Cooper on Question Time, why afford a disproportionate amount of time worrying about your children being victims of a terrorist attack: worry about them crossing the road.

One would blame the Media but in Vinterberg’s story, there’s nary a scoop-sniffing reporter in sight; what is suggested is arguably much more terrifying – that the damage of wild and unfocused denunciation is done, and witch hunts are now, chillingly, self-sustaining.

Words: Ash Verjee