June 26, 2022

The Hunt caused a bit of controversy last year when its plot was misinterpreted and taken out of context to make people believe that it was about “elites” hunting “deplorables.” People who were outraged receded further into their political identity, the film was delayed, and now it’s finally here. I’ve explained that the film’s plot isn’t really about right-wing vs. left-wing, and I’ve also talked about how the movie’s satire doesn’t really amount to much. But the film’s twist and climax reveal what writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse have on their minds.

The film opens with a group of left-wing people talking about how they’re excited for “the hunt” at the “manor.” We later learn that the hunted right-wingers know about something called “ManorGate,” which is where elites hunt deplorables. But at the film’s turn, these assumptions get turned on their head. Athena (Hilary Swank) reveals she was just joking with her liberal friends, but those texts were leaked and her and her powerful left-wing pals were all fired from their jobs or reassigned because of public perception. The fired elites then decide to do a hunt for real. They train for months, pick their victims based on who has behaved badly online, and one year after the text leaked, the elites are hunting deplorables in Croatia.

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Crystal (Betty Gilpin) then reveals to Athena that she’s not the Crystal that Athena and her friends targeted. They confused her for a different Crystal based on their online profiles and proximity to each other (one is Crystal Mae, the other is Crystal May). Athena and her fellow elites were willing to kill Crystal on a case of mistaken identity, but Crystal, who has military training and served in Afghanistan, turned the tables on them and killed all the elites. Athena’s dying word is, “Whoops.”

Damon Lindelof, perhaps more than most screenwriters, knows what it’s like to be in the crosshairs of people online. He co-created a beloved show with Lost, but was met with enmity when people didn’t like how it ended or even the various twists and turns he and the writers made along the way. He also took some flak for his work on J.J. AbramsStar Trek movies, specifically the reviled Star Trek Into Darkness. Lindelof knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of people who are Mad Online. From there (or even before you get there), it’s easy to see how people are treating each other online based on political identities. The film’s target isn’t the left-wing or the right-wing, but rather online enmity. Lindelof and Cuse see all the vitriol people are slinging at each other and carry it out to, “Fine. Just kill each other then.”


The problem with the film’s analysis about online vitriol is that it’s largely facile and misses the larger questions raised by the age of social media. The film grazes up against online conspiracy theories and cancel culture, but never synthesizes them into a compelling argument. The script is based more on observation and repetition rather than examination. For example, right-wing people believed in a conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, so Lindelof and Cuse just turn that into “ManorGate.” Powerful executives like the former head of Warner Bros. have lost their jobs when their private texts get leaked, so the writers use that as the impetus for the “elites” in the film. But what does this context mean? Why do people believe conspiracy theories? What does our rush to condemn other mean?


Lindelof and Cuse don’t have an answer for that, nor are they particularly interested in how political identities become stacked on top of our personal identities. At worst, the writers see the left-wing and right-wing as equally bad, which is a form of political nihilism practiced by the dumbest of TV pundits. Obviously, as we see at the end when Athena is startled that Crystal has read and understood Animal Farm better than her, it’s meant as a sign that if only we took people as individuals rather than online personas, we’d appreciate the richness of their character. But this approach fails to recognize that people are also political actors with views on how power should be wielded. When people attack each other online, sometimes it’s just “for the lulz” but oftentimes it’s because an identity feels threatened. The Hunt‘s bromide to “just be nicer” doesn’t really hold up when people feel like they’re battling for the soul of their country. Politics have real consequences, and while it’s easy to reduce both sides to caricatures, Lindelof and Cuse have missed the stakes of the fight to dismiss the fight itself.


For more on The Hunt, read about how the film came back to life after being pulled from Universal’s release calendar.

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