The wrongly accused: Lucas in The Hunt aka Jagten (2012)
Back in the 90s I covered a newspaper story in which a run of the mill, middle-aged sex offender was having a bit of a tough time. He’d been sent to clink for touching up some residents at a women’s shelter. In his favor, the offending was at the lower end of the indecent assault scale in that it was over the clothes and a bit random and half-arsed. Very much against him was the fact he was in a position of trust and these were vulnerable women fleeing domestic abuse and all the rest.
Anyhow, he’d served about nine months and been let out. Having lost his job with nowhere to go, he ended up living with his mum. Then the neighbors found out about his past, decided they didn’t want a pedo living among them, and started handing out flyers and putting up posters identifying the threat to their kids. I went to meet a group of these concerned mums. I also interviewed our star man and his lawyer.
And you know what?
I preferred the company of the sex offender.
The women were horrible old biddies. Rabid harpies. I tried explaining to them that the guy wasn’t a pedo; he’d fondled adult women. They said it didn’t matter because temptation was in his way and it wouldn’t be long before he attacked someone in the street. I clarified that his offending took place at a specific indoor location and nowhere else. Again, they didn’t care. What did facts matter when there was a perceived threat to their darling kiddiewinks a few doorsteps away?
When I interviewed the guy, he said all the right things. He underlined it had been really scary being a sex offender in prison and he didn’t want to go back under any circumstances. He said he was sorry and desired to be left alone. He planned to find work, rebuild and most probably move away. He just needed a bit of time to sort himself out but at that moment was getting spat on in the street.
Now you can argue we reap what we sow, karma and all that other stuff, but writing up his story left me with the distinct impression that people love to kick other people. They’re not interested in forgiveness, second chances, keeping their noses out or anything vaguely Christian, even if they have a crucifix or two on the wall. Given the slightest opportunity, they want to pile on and destroy.
What’s interesting about this unhealthy common urge is that it doesn’t just affect guilty types like our pathetic, broken-down sex offender. You might be an upstanding member of the community that’s quietly contributed for years on end. You can win awards and be the first person invited to parties. However, all that favorable stuff counts for shit if you’re up against the communal finger-pointing urge. Believe me, folks, the tiniest hint of suspicion, the slightest black mark, the merest whiff of taint, and our neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and friends will start distancing themselves before gathering in mindless cliques to bare their fangs and claws. No smoke without fire and all that. And what’s more, no matter how things play out, those crosshairs will always be trained on you.
Take Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) in the deeply unsettling The Hunt. He’s an excellent nursery school teacher, popular, dependable, caring and one of those weirdo adults who actually likes kids. His life is also on the up in that his much-missed young son is about to move back home while he’s also started banging a hot chick from work.
But then he gets caught between circumstances beyond his control, a child’s capricious nature and the prevailing western trend of seeing abuse everywhere. There’s a great scene immediately after the accusation where Lucas is standing in the playground looking at the kids while trying to deal with the bombshell, but everything is silent. Life is no longer the same and we can already sense his isolation, his separateness. Like a dirty snowball rolling down a hill, the suspicion against him gathers weight and force, even though no one has seen him do or say a goddamned thing in all the years they’ve known him.
The Hunt is a tremendous movie. I know this because it made me want to reach out and shake the screen in frustration. In particular, the well-meaning but deeply misguided kindergarten boss (“I believe the children, they don’t lie”) is one of the dumbest bitches I’ve ever encountered in moviedom. Current teachers, or anyone working with kids, should avoid The Hunt like the plague. It only illustrates that as a species we’ve never lost our taste for a witch hunt. Not only that, but it’s just as easy to set in motion as it was three hundred years ago.
The pitiful: Ed Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Ed’s a fastidious man. You can tell he’s worked hard to become the dean of students, dotting all the ‘i’s and crossing all the ‘t’s along the way. He likes order, he loves routine, and he worships knuckling down and doing what’s expected. After all, he’s stuck to such stifling habits his entire life. That’s why he hates Ferris (Matthew Broderick). He knows such a cocky kid couldn’t give a flying fuck about the boring ol’ rules. Worse, he’s convinced Ferris is committing the cardinal crime of doing his own thing, having fun and still heading toward victory. “I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind,” he mutters to himself.
But the tragic Ed is blind to his own hate. For the popular, risk-taking Ferris is the charismatic live wire he’s always longed to be.
Anyhow, Ed’s decided it’s time to puncture Ferris’ ever-rising balloon and expose him as a lying, possibly sociopathic shyster. It’s the only way to protect the rest of the students from a pollutant who ‘gives good kids bad ideas.’ Or as he tells the teen’s mum on the phone after noticing a ninth absence from school: “If Ferris thinks he can just coast through this month and still graduate, he is sorely mistaken.”
And so begins an obsessive pursuit that turns the uptight, resentful Ed into a human bloodhound. “I’m gonna catch this kid and I’m gonna put one helluva dent in his future,” he informs his half-dotty secretary. “Fifteen years from now when he looks back on the ruin his life’s become, he is gonna remember Edward Rooney.”
But it’s a fanatical pursuit that’s doomed to failure because we know his smarter quarry is forever one step ahead. The enjoyment lies in watching this humorless schmuck blunder into one Ferris-set trap after another. At what point is he going to quit? Not early on sitting on his arse in his office, that’s for sure. But Ed soon realizes that Ferris is too slippery to be caught by phone, even though his stammering, backtracking and minor losses of dignity are already proving indicative of what lies ahead. No, Ed’s ultimate triumph can only arrive if he gets out in the field, a decision that leads to pratfalls, humiliating encounters with teenage girls, bodily injury, a ruined suit, bouts of bellowed public profanity, a towed car, and a ferocious, Omen-like Rottweiler that may well be his best and only hope of removing that rod from up his arse.
As played by Jeffrey Jones in a wonderful display of comic support, you won’t find a better cinematic example of a man sailing past the point of no return.