That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

The Hunt (Jagten) & Elysium

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 7:58 am—Film

The Hunt (Denmark 2013, Drama), Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg; Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Elysium (USA 2013, Action/Drama/Sci-Fi), Writer/Director: Neill Blomkamp

I recently saw two very different films: Elysium and The Hunt.

I’d been greatly anticipating Elysium, having loved writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s previous feature, District 9. But I hadn’t heard of The Hunt until flipping through the Ottawa Citizen last week. A great headline (“Danish drama is a beautifully acted and subtle piece of moral drama”) and its star (Mads Mikkelsen) were enough to pull me in. Mikkelsen has been excellent in everything I’ve seen him in, including the wonderful Danish film After the Wedding. So the first chance I got, I was off to catch his latest film.

Set in small-town Denmark, The Hunt tracks a mild-mannered teacher named Lucas (Mikkelsen, in the role that won him Best Actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival). Laid off from his teaching job and battling his ex-wife over their teenage son’s custody, Lucas lives alone and spends his days working at a kindergarten. His lonely life takes a turn for the better, but it’s all shot to hell when one of the kindergartners—young Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), daughter of Lucas’ best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen)—tells a damning lie.

The lie comes about innocently enough. Inappropriately overlooked by her parents, Klara develops a crush on caring Lucas, who very appropriately rejects her clumsy, child’s advances. But the timing is terrible. Having recently glimpsed her older brothers’ porn magazines, and stinging from a sense of abandonment, Klara tells her kindergarten principal that Lucas exposed himself to her.

It’s a childish lie from a child in pain, and she quickly tries to retract it. But the lie takes on a life of its own. Her mother tells her that it did happen; her mind just doesn’t want to remember. Her principal, Grethe (Susse Wold), advises the students’ parents to look for signs of abuse in their children—bedwetting, nightmares and headaches. And her classmates soon follow her mismatched suit, making up their own stories about Lucas.

None of their lies turn out to be true, but that doesn’t matter to the townsfolk. It’s a hunting community, after all. (Even Lucas is seen stalking and killing a deer at the beginning of the film.) The Hunt narrows in on people’s reactions to the rumours, observing their need to target a scapegoat and their fear of standing out from the pack.

It’s an interesting premise, particularly for a film that presents an unusual take on the issue of sexual predation. Writers Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg align the audience with the falsely accused “predator,” when, as a character in the film points out, Lucas is the exception; most of the time, the child isn’t lying. It makes me wonder why the filmmakers wanted to tell a story about that minority, when all too often people err on the side of dismissing a child’s cries for help, for fear of ruffling feathers. Still, it’s a powerful story worth telling, and one that extends beyond the film’s storyline, speaking more generally to people’s tendency to give in to mob mentality.

What’s remarkable is that Lucas never becomes bitter toward Klara. He doesn’t even seem to be in a hurry to declare his innocence, probably because he knows so firmly that he is. And the film lets that be. It doesn’t get bogged down in a mysterious “he said, she said” scenario or a fight to defend one’s honour. Instead, it keeps the focus simple, keeps the issue of herd behaviour directly in its crosshairs. And it’s more than enough to target.

Elysium, on the other hand, veers away from that kind of simplicity. As mentioned in my Elysium teaser, the film is set in the year 2154, when the rich live on a closely guarded man-made space station called Elysium, and everyone else lives on a ruined, overpopulated Earth. One of those remaining many is parolee Max (Matt Damon). When he’s exposed a lethal dose of radiation, he becomes hell-bent on getting to Elysium so he can hop into a miraculous med pod (there’s one in every home), which can cure whatever ails you in seconds. But it’s not so easy to get to Elysium. Those who try tend to be shot out of the sky—even when all they want is to land long enough to get medical treatment for their children.

If the filmmakers had focused more on that “simple” storyline, on the growing tensions between the haves and have-nots, I think Elysium would have been more powerful. Instead, they throw in several other complications, and the net result of the multiple storylines is that we don’t spend enough time with each character.

The movie also does many things right. Blomkamp is a gifted artist with a keen eye and a wonderful knack for directing action. While Elysium may not deliver on the promise of its premise in quite the same way District 9 does, the film offers a chance to see what Blomkamp can do visually with a bigger budget—and it’s awesome.

The extra funds also mean an impressive cast that includes the always-wonderful Damon, and Jodie Foster as Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Delacourt. Although my favourite casting choice was to bring back Blomkamp’s District 9 star, the immensely talented and, evidently, incredibly diverse Sharlto Copley. I didn’t even recognize him as psychopathic and sadistic special agent Kruger until the credits rolled. Very glad to see that the bigger-budget opportunities are extending to Blomkamp’s collaborator!

After starting out with a series of inspired shorts and a feature film as special and impressive as District 9, Blomkamp set the bar pretty high. From the get-go, Elysium had a tough row to hoe. And in many ways, it stands up well. It still holds the flavour of Blomkamp’s earlier work—his values, recurring themes and unique visual approach. But its narrative makes me wonder how much involvement the studios had, and how much freedom Blomkamp was given to tell the story he set out to.

So, two films worth getting to: See The Hunt for its thoughtfulness and artfulness, and a beautiful performance by Mikkelsen. See Elysium for its visuals and effects, its social relevance, and because it’s exciting and part of the body of work of an incredibly talented, thought-provoking young filmmaker who’s only just getting warmed up.

2 Responses

  1. Catherine Jensen

    Thank you Amanda for two more beautifully written reviews; they always add a lot to my anticipation and appreciation of films to see.

  2. amanda

    Thanks for following the blog, Catherine! Looking forward to your thoughts on these two films…

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