Sadly, reports of child sex abuse are in the media far too often, whether they be crimes long past (often perpetrated by clergy, teachers or coaches) or present-day preying on the young by those in a position of authority or trust (frequently family members are the culprits).
Once in a very blue moon, the public allegations prove to have no basis in fact; the charges are dropped or withdrawn, but the stigma remains forever on the wrongfully accused (after all, don’t a lot of people get off on a technicality?).
Director and co-writer (along with frequent collaborator Tobias Lindholm) Thomas Vinterberg has taken on this daunting subject matter and fashioned a marvel of cinema that teases with the possibility of an uncomfortable, largely mundane telling, only to tie everything together with the twin tenants of hunt: one in small-town Denmark rife with gossipers and busybodies, the other in a nearby forest where equally unsuspecting deer are stalked and pay a horrific price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After solidly building the character of divorced dad, now kindergarten teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen in superb form, enduring a bogus j’accuse and the ugly ramifications from the workplace to the supermarket to the bedroom), has his entire world turned upside down due to the puppy love of Klara (Annika Wedderkopp acting far above her weight) who happens to be the daughter of Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), Lucas’ best friend.
After a gentle but clear rebuke of Klara’s head-over-heels infatuation with her teacher (who is sober far more often than her dad, frequently coming to the troubled child’s rescue while both of her parents duke it out at home), the distraught girl (having just been flashed some eye-popping porn by her older brother’s hormone-raging buddy) confesses an unwanted viewing of Lucas’ “rod” to the school’s headmaster (readily capitulating to the unsubstantiated charges and then “spreading the word” for the self-righteous protection of all is convincingly accomplished by Susse Wold). Since the child has never lied before, reasons the one-person judge and jury, why would she make up such a monstrous story?
Just as viewers might start to wonder, “Why doesn’t Lucas hire a lawyer and fight back?”, Vinterberg artfully avoids going down the legal road (save and except for the off-screen preliminary hearing), then fully expands on his thesis of what can be the life-altering results of “just one lie” to make present pain go away and get instant revenge in the bargain.
Anyone whose reputation has been falsely called into question will readily empathize with Lucas, hoping he might—somehow—survive the ordeal. For those whose own moments of re-writing events to put another in his/her place are kindled, their own miserable level of denial and “selected memory” will most certainly shift into overdrive of the damned. JWR