Tuesday, November 3, 2020, is going to be a hell of a day. I despise talking about politics because the only discussions less useful to intelligent discourse lately are forays into conspiracy theory. But I think I have a perfect way to express the angst, fear and disgust many people have felt when they realized 2020, a year with numbers that represent perfect vision and clarity, was descending into chaos, sickness and violence while those in power exploited the chaos, sickness and violence.
Enter The Hunt.
The conversation about this film gets derailed frequently. Due to release just after the horrific mass murders in an El Paso Walmart in August 2019, The Hunt’s opening was delayed after President Trump and right-wing pundits like Laura Ingraham insisted the film’s goal was to inspire partisan violence against conservatives. The film’s opening was delayed until late September 2019, then again until March of 2020. It opened right before Covid-19 caused theaters to shut down in the USA. Not many people got to see it on screen, but those who did found the film uncomfortable viewing. Leftists were angry that the liberals in the film were such assholes. Those on the Right were angry that the conservatives in the film were such assholes and also felt that the asshole liberals were coded as conservatives. That, my friends, is a pretty good sign that this is a film that may show you some uncomfortable truths about class, politics, objective and subjective truth, and what happens when the schism becomes all anyone can see.
If it makes you uncomfortable, interrogate that feeling.
Here’s a brief synopsis of The Hunt, and there will probably be spoilers (I don’t think you really can spoil a film like this, but step wisely if you prefer to go into films utterly tabula rasa): The Hunt is a riff on The Most Dangerous Game, humans hunting humans, but this time it’s personal. A cadre of elite liberals, very wealthy elite liberals, made a dumb joke in a group chat. One of them spoke of shooting “deplorables” in a hunt, and the others reacted in a tongue-in-cheek manner. This chat got hacked and released to the public and conspiracy theorists took it seriously. The elites eventually lost their jobs and decided to track down some of the most virulent proponents of the conspiracy theory and kill them in a hunt, making the conspiracy theory real after the fact. Conservative and conspiracy theory caricatures were kidnapped, flown to an estate in the Balkans and killed. The last woman standing is Crystal May Creasey, a lower-middle class blonde with a thick Southern accent. The mastermind behind The Hunt, a woman named Athena, researched the prey she and her peers would hunt, but got it very wrong with Crystal. Athena kidnapped the wrong Crystal Creasey, not knowing the Crystal behind the social media accounts talking about The Hunt spelled her name “Mae.” That mistake costs her and you need to watch the film if only to see the final confrontation between Athena and the wrong Crystal.
Athena and her comrades in arms are extremely wealthy and very white, with the exception of one Arabic man who is their token minority. They are wealthy in a way that makes them part of the 1%. They are so wealthy that losing their jobs means little to their overall net worth as they are able to charter airplanes, pay off staff who fly them around, rent entire compounds for weeks, hire a military advisor to help them train, etc. Their absolute privilege fuels their rage at the mostly blue-collar advocates of the conspiracy theory. How dare those “deplorables” interfere in their lives in such a way? They must be taught a lesson, an individual lesson that results in their deaths. They messed with their “betters” and that cannot stand.
Liberal discomfort at watching these caricatures is interesting. Athena and her cohorts get very upset over language – while hiding bodies in a back room at a fake general store and gas station set up to catch anyone who escaped the compound, one older married couple argue over whether or not “black” is an appropriate description for human beings. They come to the conclusion that “African-American” is the only polite term, no matter what NPR has to say about it because NPR employs mostly white people. They have no problem policing each other’s language as they literally kill three people with poison gas because they talked conspiracy theory online. Similar conversations happen in a bunker on the compound, as the tiresome elites wait in anticipation for Crystal to return. When they accidentally shoot a pig named Orwell, their anger at hurting the animal far outweighs any concern they have for the human beings they rounded up and slaughtered.
Oh, and it is a slaughter. It’s not a hunt. The conspiracy theorists find a box of weapons but the moment they get their bearings in a clearing, they are immediately shot from an enemy they do not know is there, with no knowledge of why they are there and the rules of the hunt. Those who escape instant death are chased into booby traps, tracked with drones, blown up or gassed and the notion of an actual hunt only comes up when Crystal proves hard to kill. It was never a hunt until Crystal, the wrong Crystal, hunted them. It was graphic, outrageous revenge against people who had very little power outside of their capacity to talk about jaded and cruel rich people online.
But bear in mind, the people getting shot and gassed and blown up are also distasteful. One of the guys is a big game hunter, posing with animal carcasses like that asshole dentist who lured a lion out of an animal preservation to kill. One is a hard-core conspiracy theorist who sees a crisis actor in everyone he sees, even babies, and it strips him of any real humanity and makes him an easy target. Another is a dead ringer for Tomi Lahren, so much so that we don’t need much more from her than a couple of sentences because it’s clear who she is meant to portray (checking the name for spelling showed me as I was typing this, the real Tomi Lahren was tweeting and retweeting about the election and evidently wrote a book called Never Play Dead that came out a year after The Hunt finished production and I sense we’ve come full circle, in a way). And while I don’t like Tomi Lahren, for many of the same reasons I lipfarted at Phyllis Schlafly, I don’t think it will get me cancelled to say that I don’t want to see her kidnapped and her head blown off. These ringers aside, the rest are just Q-Anon and Pizzagate true believers who never really understood that there were real people on the other side of their accusations, that what they were saying could potentially ruin lives. If they consider that their actions could ruin lives, they feel it was a morally upright decision to ruin those who prey on the weak, even if the basis for such a decision is bad logic and supposition. They just had the bad luck to cross people more motivated for revenge than the Podesta brothers or that dude who runs Comet Ping Pong.
The Tomi Lahren stand-in and the big game hunter may have had some money, but that they are so easily kidnapped and illegally flown into Europe speaks to being far lower on the financial ladder than the liberals who want them dead. This is a class war, pure and simple, and it is based simply on class because the liberals feel it would be terrible to kill any of the people of color who spread the conspiracy theory about The Hunt. It’s an interesting place to stand, to be so attuned to white privilege that one is willing to kill any number of white people who say the wrong thing but utterly unwilling to kill minorities who do the same because that’s just not politically correct.
In the middle of these warring class factions stands Crystal. Her skills are of a Neo-in-the-Matrix type and her flat deadpan delivery is often far too calm, but in her hyper-aware, violently competent, quiet sense of self, we see the only real human in this film. She may be part of the working class the elites hate, but she was never a part of the conspiracy theory and as an outsider to wealth and conspiracy, she is the only one who can see clear enough to survive. While the other hunt victims woke with bits locked in their mouths, convening together in the clearing where a large box containing weapons was placed, Crystal was pulling apart her name badge and placing the pin on a leaf in a pond to show her the way north. She never banded together with the rest of them until she was forced to when other victims found her – she didn’t even wait around long enough to find out who they were or what any of them may have known about what was going on. We don’t know her political beliefs. We know she was in the military and that she had a crappy job at a car rental place. Beyond that she’s an Everywoman, a stand-in for every person who has watched the world split apart, with loved ones on either side of the divide, tired of the rhetoric, cruelty, entitlement and fear.
The prelude to the final fight is very interesting. Athena’s arrogance and distaste for the messy lives of the underclass is sickening. She taunts Crystal, reciting knowledge about Crystal Mae Creasey’s sad life. Parents were meth addicts, life spent in foster care, and that pedigree of poverty and despair to Athena is a sign that Crystal, in some Calvinist assignation of blame, earned her terrible life because she on some level deserves it, that her misery was pre-ordained. Crystal Mae was scum, she was foul, and she had messed with Athena via comments online and had to die for it. It’s just a shame that she kidnapped Crystal May Creasey, whom she knew nothing about.
The end of the fight is instructive, showing the way the 1% looks at those who don’t have an MBA and who live paycheck to paycheck. All of the victims have nicknames the elites use and they call Crystal “Snowball.” Crystal asks Athena why she called her that and Athena immediately thinks Crystal is asking because she doesn’t have any idea who Orwell was nor had she read Animal Farm. She begins to pedantically explain it to Crystal, who cuts her off, telling her she understands the reference but doesn’t get the link between her and Snowball. Athena is visibly shocked that this woman, this woman whose identity she now knows she fucked up, read a book, let alone a book almost every high school freshman in America reads. Athena is so married to her idea of those unlike her being genuinely deplorable that any sign of intelligence in her perceived enemy is shocking.
By the way, I’ll be damned if I understand the way that this film viewed Snowball, the pig who represented Trotsky and whose death was used as propaganda by Napoleon/Stalin, who bastardized Snowball’s ideas. Perhaps the conspiracy-minded Crystal was Snowball, but the Crystal they kidnapped was not. More puzzling, Crystal says she thinks Athena is Snowball, and that makes even less sense, unless it is a way to convey that Crystal is going to somehow misuse Athena’s image to achieve some larger goal. If that is the case, it’s unclear at the end. And that lack of clarity may be the point. At the end, education, literary allusion and decent analogy meant nothing – they were all slaughtered like pigs. In that regard, Athena really was Snowball.
This is an uncomfortable movie to watch. It parodies conservative conspiracy theories and parrots the worst people think about elites who use the lumpen proletariat however they want but tantrum like very pampered babies when the proles speak out of turn. It shows how impermeable conspiracy theory is to rational or reasonable thought. It shows how perhaps we are right to be very afraid of those who wield power and have money. Conservatives thought the immoral liberal elites were a parody of them, and maybe they were. Liberals really hate the way the elites were more focused on the minutia of civility than the morality of killing people for sport and revenge. This film shows what incompetent assholes many who are rabidly partisan become, and won’t let us off easy in the end by telling us much about the heroine who outlasted her financial peers and bested her economic betters. We may be far more like Athena or the ersatz Tomi than Crystal.
The days ahead are going to suck regardless of who wins the election. I’m a liberal, or a leftist – I don’t even know anymore because the labels change online constantly – and I see Athena in some of my own. And I know that though I am far from rich, the intellectual company I keep may make me seem like a pandering asshole to those to the right of me. Enemy lines have been drawn in a way they never have been before and I worry about the days to come.
That’s it. That’s the end. I have no great conclusion here. No matter what happens today, restoring our faith in the government, politicians, and even our peers will not come quickly. Maybe watching this film will result in some sort of catharsis but right now it might just feel like the movie gods are mocking us. Just buckle in and hope your level best that we will one day live in a society wherein it is not so easy to constantly invoke Orwell.