This Best Foreign Film Nominee is not for everyone. Not because it is subtitled and not because of the subject matter, but because of the vagueness of the conclusion. In my opinion, it fits with the theme of the story but I understand how it can be unsatisfying. Regardless, there is a reason this film was nominated for an Oscar despite this debatable ending. One thing is for sure, this film sparks reflection and the ambiguity does not inhibit this striking and thought-provoking film.
Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, Dear Wendy) takes us through a journey that would be any father’s worst nightmare of defamation of character. There would be no worse thing than to be called a pedophile. Lucas, played by the talented Mads Mikkelsen, has had a challenging time recovering from his divorce and losing his job. Those close to him feel bad for him, but he manages to stay positive and keep his dignity intact. It is obvious that he is a good man with a good heart. He always lends a helping hand to his best friend’s family- a couple who fights a lot. Their daughter Klara has learned to rely on Lucas, being a safe-haven for her chaotic and unstructured life. Things start looking up at his job at the kindergarten (where Klara is a student) when he begins dating a nice woman and learns that his teenage son will be coming to live with him.
When curious Klara kisses Lucas on the mouth, to his great surprise, he tells her she mustn’t do such a thing. Klara gets embarrassed and angry and tells a teacher something that isn’t true. Klara is reacting on high emotion, has a vivid imagination, and is too young to know the impact of her actions. Before talking to Lucas, the headmistress, Grethe, leads an incompetent interrogation by unqualified and unauthorized individuals. They feed her information and ask her leading questions that prompt Klara to expand on her already mendacious accusations. Before going to the police, Grethe tells all the parents of the situation and warns them that it is possible that there may be more victims. The rumor spreads like wild fire as Lucas’ world becomes unhinged and dissolves before him.
A circle of hate, confusion, and fear surrounds Lucas. He is shunned from the community like the scarlet letter. The harsh treatment erupts in an uproar of abuse that is astounding. This accusation is a death sentence, whether it is true or not. He will never have his dignity back. The beautiful production design and editing only adds to this heartbreaking story. I was spellbound by Mads Mikkelsen’s performance in the church scene. His breakdown, the loss of his soul, is breathtaking and so worthy of an Academy Award. As for the significance of the title, that comes at the end; a rite of passage hunt where boys become men and men become boys.
Near the end of the film, Klara’s father states that there is a lot of evil in the world and if they stick together it will be alright. Collective guidance and fear of the unknown has dire consequences in this situation. It is crazy to think that something a 6 year old says can turn everyone’s world upside- down. This is a remarkable film that some people may not like because it is not definitive. There are scenes that definitely leave the audience with questions and accusations of their own. A similar fear and anger prompts the reactions of the community because the unknown is a scary thing. So, as the audience, we are left to feel the same way- full of questions and fear in this embittered and disconnected world.
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