The Hunt, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a hauntingly quiet film that explores how those wrongfully accused of sexual abuse fight to maintain their innocence in the midst of local hysteria that slowly spreads like a virus and threatens to wreak irreparable damage.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) works at a kindergarten in a small Danish hunting town, trying to put his life back together after a nasty divorce. He's a respected member of the community, has a girlfriend, and is rekindling a relationship with his son. But when Klara, a young girl at the kindergarten, makes an unfounded claim of sexual abuse against Lucas, members of the community turn on him with the belief that children never lie.
Even after the child says she "said something silly" and never meant for anything bad to happen to Lucas, the damage has already been done. His closest friends begin to doubt him and wrestle with their anger and confusion. Parents talk to other parents who talk to local business owners, and before long, the whole community is certain of Lucas’s guilt, and they began to pursue vigilante justice by throwing a rock through his window, murdering his dog, roughing him up in the supermarket, and publicly shaming him. His son’s godfather continues to stand by Lucas, even after other children begin to claim that Lucas molested them as well.
The film’s ending is rather surprising. After Klara’s father finally begins to understand how out of control the situation has become, the conflict is somehow resolved off screen after a year passes. Lucas and his friends celebrate his son’s acquisition of a hunting license, and it seems as though all has been forgotten, and Lucas has been exonerated. Klara is at the gathering, and she and Lucas have a pleasant exchange. It’s obvious she had no ill intentions, and Lucas doesn’t blame her. Everyone smiles and laughs and shouts drinking chants before taking off into the woods. Lucas and his son separate, leaving Lucas to wander alone with his rifle. He sees a stag and doesn’t raise his rifle. Instead he just watches this free creature. A bullet rips through a tree near Lucas, and his unidentified shooter flees, leaving Lucas blinded by sunlight. And this is how the film ends.
The confusion of an entire community escalates to such a degree that nothing will ever be the same for Lucas, even after his immediate circle has moved past the event. Before credits roll, we can see this in his face. This “virus” has spread far and wide, radiating outward from the central action -- perhaps to an extent beyond repair. An innocent man cannot completely escape the shadow cast over him by his accuser, Vinterberg seems to tell us, and this cloud will never pass. It’s been embedded into the social fabric of cultural memory. Whoever fired the shot at Lucas is irrelevant. The accused will always be a target.