The Hunt (2020) is a satirical thriller which tries to make fun of “both political sides”. While failing at that, it reveals however a more insidious problem with mainstream political discourse.
To begin with, the premise of the movie is likely recognizable from somewhere and everywhere else: a group of people is kidnapped and hunted for sport. This is when the film attempts its first “twist”. Usually the hunted down are underclasses and the hunters the ruling elite, but here they seem to represent instead facets of the political spectrum. The “prey” in the movie are mainly right wingers, out of which some are downright Nazis (e.g., a man pictured marching with Tiki torches) or Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theorists, while the hunters are woke lefties, fact which the script makes sure to let us know by a litany of jokes about race privilege, non gendered language, veganism… you know, Twitter hashtags.
This is astonishingly lazy. But to show why, a bit more of context is needed. The usual understanding of politics in most countries is through parties that compete backing different “sides” on key issues. In American parlance, and in the context of the movie, this divides people into roughly two groups: conservatives and liberals. Naming is unfortunate, as “liberal” means “supporter of capitalism” everywhere else in the world (thus making conservatives also liberals in the original sense of the word), but roughly speaking, conservatives push for deregulated free markets, traditional social values while liberals sit on the more progressive side of things as well advocating for welfare programs. This understanding of politics is nevertheless incomplete. Not so in much in the fact that it ignores centuries of Political Philosophy (although it does), but in that conservatives and liberals have more in common than not when it comes to the fundamentals. Both want a capitalist economy. Both want the State. Both support republics and their representative democracies, a police and military force, etc. There may be disagreement on how to establish these institutions, but the core assumption that they should exist is shared, unquestioned.
Hence, a more holistic approach should be apt. A somewhat recent attempt at that are the so-called political compasses, usually depicted as a square cut by a horizontal (left - right) economical axis and a vertical (authoritarian - libertarian) social axis. Political ideologies are then grouped in the four quadrants in alignment to said axes. Although an improvement over American style denominations, by allowing more than just a binary us vs them view, there is still here a glaring confusion. The misconstruct is over what “libertarian” means, and specially how economical and politico-social issues cannot be meaningfully untangled: for someone being oppressed, oppression is oppression no matter the angle it comes from. If I face State persecution, it doesn’t matter what they call their economical policies, likewise if I am starving to death because I can’t afford food that’d likely be thrown away if not sold, my social rights are a moot point which I can’t fully enjoy or exercise.
Thus, a more fitting way to map the political spectrum is a hierarchy scale, if you will. Here, a hierarchy means whatever situation someone/some group has power over someone else/some other group. Where power comes from is irrelevant: if only women are barred from voting or gay people can’t marry, that’s a hierarchy; if someone unilaterally dictates how your day at work must be spent or your local government is run without your input, that’s a hierarchy; whatever it is not performed democratically is a hierarchy, as one person is telling the others how to do their lives. With this in mind, picture an imaginary line in which following a direction means “more hierarchies”, and the opposite going “less hierarchies” – in one edge is the most oppressive and brutal societal organization conceivable, on the other an utopian society made only of free associations and no coercion whatsoever. Using such scale, it is clear that conservatives and liberals as portrayed by The Hunt are hardly representative of the diversity in politics. Albeit not identical, the hierarchies both groups support have the same underpinnings.
That being said, one might interject, isn’t the film portraying both sides according to mainstream American politics? That’s precisely the reason why I called it lazy. For a movie that thinks itself so clever, there isn’t a single mention of, say, anti capitalists or anti fascists (who’d be the actual opposite of hard right as shown in the movie), anti statists or anything that isn’t the small portion in our scale comprised of run of the mill liberal democracy, in fact, the bulk of the jokes are at the expense of the cringe, SJW-like villains. The conservatives in the movie are largely coded as stupid or incompetent, but their fears are vindicated by the text: the killing games they rumor to exist do actually exist, even if the movie tries to spin it as another plot twist. That’s a dangerous trap that every “centrist”, “all sides” or “apolitical” commentary walks into. If we are making fun of both sides and one are literal fascists and the other the political correctness police, does it mean they are both equal of a threat? Are white supremacists and college kids screaming cultural appropriation committing the same number of terrorist acts? Has cancel culture risen out of social media platforms and tried to install a dictatorship? Was anyone ever killed or imprisoned for not using someone’s preferred pronouns? The answer to these question should be obvious.
Another issue with equating sides (the bad ol’ horse shoe theory) is that not picking one is, for all purposes, siding with the status quo. I don’t mean it as in every position has to be polarizing, rather that sitting on the fence is a tacit agreement to whatever it is currently in power because any and all systems are made of hierarchies kept afloat by (structural or not) violence. Whenever an injustice happens, there is no moral high ground or intellectual smugness to be had by abstaining from doing something. The Hunt is specially faulty of this in its heroine. The last twist of the film is that the protagonist, and person to rain on the liberal’s killing parade, was selected in error by a name mix-up, and was not herself a conspiratory conservative. As the movie portrayal goes, her apoliticalness cannot be divorced from her smarts and badassery. She doesn’t care why she’s being hunted, or if the elites truly are the ones hunting her down, and this detachment is her strength, because why wouldn’t it be? After all, everyone else who has an opinion is a self righteous moron or later found out to be an immense hypocrite. This is further coded in the head villain, the only person who can put up any fight to the main character, and also happens to mostly keep her political opinions to herself.
Given its reception, and how much of the film marketing was just leaning on the “controversy”, I expected The Hunt to actually have something to say. Alas, lazy cop out after tired joke, there isn’t much to go by. There is no real critique, no message emerging from a picture that amounts to be the South Park of Battle Royale styled movies.