The most devastating moments in my life have been when I realize that the world I believe to be real, the world I want to be real, is only an product of my imagination. There is a scene in Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter that captures this experience exactly.
Subjectivity: Lucy (Frances O’Connor) gets out of bed on hearing her husband’s old Springsteen record play. She has been asleep for the first part of the film due to depression and medication. Her husband has been missing for sometime. She is entranced by the music and the thought that her life might be coming back together. She slowly makes her way outside to meet her husband in his old outfit under the lights of the tree. Their children are laughing and playing on his shoulders. She embraces him from the back, and pulls him around to kiss him. He is the object of her desire. For a moment she meets the love of her life again.
Recognition: But it is not her husband. It is a stranger in her husband’s clothes playing with their children. She is horrified and confused. Who is this man? How could she mistake him for her husband? This man, Martin (Willem Dafoe), is also in pain. He has interrupted this woman’s life and the life of her children. And yet we can see in their eyes, both Lucy and Martin have made an important connection with eachother. Should they pursue this relationship at all? Is hell like Sartre said “other people”?
This scene is not representative of the entire movie. The Hunter is generally very quiet and meditative—it’s also about a man trying to capture the last Tasmanian tiger—but this moment does capture the essential lyric nature of the film. In a powerful way, it is also a compelling analogue to the various relationships we make in life. Though most of us have never personally experienced anything like Martin and Lucy’s mistaken identity episode, we all do create realities that are fragile and require other people to play parts. Sometimes we hurt people in the process, often we hurt ourselves, but we always plunge deeper into the terror and beauty of the world and our facticity.