Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm
Running Time: 115 minutes
This superb, Oscar nominated Danish film follows the story of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a recently divorced kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town who is struggling to spend time with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm). He has many friends in town, including Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), who has a small daughter who goes to the school at which Lucas teaches named Klara (Anika Wedderkopp). Lucas frequently walks Klara to and from school and Klara seems to have a bit of a crush on Lucas. One day she kisses Lucas quickly while he is playing with the children and she gives him a heart, and after Lucas declines her romantic gesture in a polite manner, she tells the principal, Grethe (Susse Wold) that Lucas showed her his genitals. After these accusations become public, Lucas is shunned and persecuted by the town while even all of his closest friends turn against him, except for Bruun (Lars Ranthe). Marcus also comes to town to be with his father and also feels the effects of the hatred the town has for his father. Things only get worse for Lucas when more children come forward and claim that he molested them also.
I just watched this film last night because of my being converted into a Mads Mikkelsen fan after watching Hannibal last year. I was introduced to Mikkelsen through Casino Royale, like most English-speaking film-goers but this movie is where he really shows his acting chops. Mikkelsen has a very subtle acting style that is usually used to play mysterious villains, but it equally well with the character of Lucas, who is easy to identify with due to his normality. The most well-acted scene in the film has to be when Lucas goes to the local Christmas Eve church service and tearfully confronts Theo in front of everyone about his innocence. I frequently found myself enraged at how the townspeople instantaneously took the word of a child instead of a well-respected man in the community like Lucas.
Annika Wedderkopp, the young actress who plays Klara, also gave a great performance. While she did cause Lucas the trouble in the film, she never intended to cause any harm. She plays Klara as an innocent who is troubled by what is happening to Lucas. For a while in the film, she does not even know whether she was actually lying or not due to what people are saying. Her mother (played by Anne Louise Hassing), unable to accept the possibility that Klara told a fib, tells Klara that she most likely suppressed the memory of Lucas molesting her. The final scene between Lucas and Klara, which shows that they have left the past behind as much as possible, really tears at your heartstrings.
The supporting cast was not wasted at all. You could sympathize with Klara’s parents even though they were completely wrong in believing the accusations against Lucas. Unlike the children, they are not innocents and do not have an excuse for blindly believing the lies the children are telling. You can’t help but find them despicable despite them being so easy to identify with. If your child accused someone of molesting them, you would instinctively believe them. The headmistress of the school, Grethe, is the one I really couldn’t stand because of her naivety of believing the children at all times.
The film really makes you think about what would happen to you if you were placed in an unfortunate situation like that. Would your friends stand by you or would they turn on you and assume the worst? When the film first shows Lucas hanging out with his buddies after a hunting trip, laughing and drinking, you would assume that they would all stick together no matter what, but even Lucas’s “best friend”, Theo, turns on him and does not give him the benefit of the doubt when his daughter makes the accusations. If I were in Theo’s position, I would want to believe my daughter over my friend also, but the film shows how terribly dangerous it can be to blindly believe everything someone, even a small child, says.
The court of public opinion is a very dangerous place. Presumption of innocence might apply to the court of law, but it isn’t so in the court of public opinion. It makes me wonder if even you are considered innocent until proven otherwise in the court of law? Is the jury always unbiased in their decision making? Whenever Grethe hears Klara’s accusations, she instantly believes her with no evidence to support the claim. She tells Lucas, “I always believe the children!” Grethe’s blind faith in the children at the school could have easily proven fatal to Lucas. These children who make the accusations against Lucas are innocents and most likely do not realize that their actions are wrong. They all clearly love Lucas, as you see him playing with them in almost every scene in which he goes to the school. The movie almost seems to make the case that innocence can be dangerous. Klara tells her father that she never anticipated the consequences to the lie she told.
Now, here be SPOILERS. By the end of the film Lucas is acquitted and all looks well. Lucas is happily dating his love-interest Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) and is finally able to see his son regularly. The townspeople are treating him normally too. They all go on a hunting trip after celebrating Marcus getting his hunting licence. While alone in the woods, Lucas is nearly shot in the head by an unknown shooter. This ending seems to show that Lucas’s life will never truly be back to normal and that the accusations made against him will forever cast a dark shadow upon his reputation. This reminds me of Arthur Leigh Allen, who was accused by author Robert Graysmith and several people of being the elusive Zodiac Killer when all evidence points toward his innocence. Many people still believe that Allen is the Zodiac Killer. The person who shot at Lucas (if it was intentional) symbolizes those who still believe that Lucas molested the children.
This film isn’t one for everyone. Many might think it is slow, but I was totally engrossed in the film and invested in the characters (especially Lucas and Klara, of course). Despite it not being extremely violent, it is still very disturbing because of how far the accusations and their impacts go. It is scary to think that this could happen to anyone! Mads Mikkelsen took his place as the lead actor and held onto every scene he was in. I really wish he was applicable for Best Actor, but at least the film has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. This is easily one of the best films of 2012.