Is Crystal from ‘The Hunt’ the Ideal American?

[mild unimportant spoilers for The Hunt]

My husband is a horror movie buff, and I am a very sensitive person, so 100% of the horror/gore movies I watch are for the sole purpose of spending time with him. The Hunt proved to be a rare instance where the movie itself was worth my time.

That’s not a comment on the film exactly, though it did exceed my low expectations. I have a particular problem with lazy politics in fiction, and a general eye-roll for the oft-recycled plot of people being thrown into a large open pen and being forced to fight for their lives. The politics – not quite as lazy as I feared. And one particular aspect of the story has kept me thinking, with pleasure, ever since.

For the first twenty minutes, the film was about as wincing as expected. Even after the chain of bait-and-switches which seemed to be screaming THIS IS NOT THE FILM YOU THOUGHT IT WAS! GET IT?! GET IT!?, I was settled in for an only mildly enjoyable evening. Then, like a machine from god, one person stepped in and just lifted the whole thing up. That person was Betty Gilpin’s Crystal May.

In a war between left and right, in which rich liberal elites kidnap (mostly Southern) conservative commentators right off the internet and hunt them for sport, Crystal seems the only sane player. Her saneness seems tied to the fact that she is somehow apolitical, even though we know that each member of the hunted class was hand-picked for their MAGA-style rantings.

Crystal works at a car-rental center. She has a tired face. A strong Southern accent. We learn quite quickly that she’s a veteran. Yet, for most of the film we don’t know why she was chosen. And yet we never see Crystal capitulate to the ideological fist-shaking of her fellow huntees. She helps them – she will even slow down for them – but she is not caught up in any fight larger than the fight to survive.

I can’t speculate what the creators intended for Crystal when they wrote ‘The Hunt’. I only know that, watching it, I felt a weird envy. Why can’t I be more like Crystal? Jokers to the left of her, jokers to the right, and here she is, the eye of the storm, simply too heavy and solid to be swept up.

Crystal can’t care about all of our loud moral philosophizing because, like minimum wage workers all across America, she has more urgent things on her mind. She is above the fray because she is beneath it. She is the soldier in the trenches who doesn’t have time for poets or politicians. And somehow this has inculcated her against a sizable measure of bullshit.

At the same time, there’s nothing admirable about being apolitical. As is often said – rightly – one can only be apolitical if they are comfortable in the current system. Neutrality takes the side of the powerful, and all that. So Crystal, framed as a hero, is also a cheat. A narrative cop-out. Even in the end, when we learn why she is chosen, we never know where her politics lie, or if she even has any.

But! But. There is something to be taken from her. She’s amazing in the movie – tough as guts, smart, wry, and somehow still very human. She feels like a comforting place in today’s America. Perhaps her example is just the willingness to be a little heavier. Less like a human kite, sailing every hashtag.

I’m torn on that. I often feel like I need to research issues to the ends of the earth before I ever raise a sign or pick up a phone. But if everyone were like me, nothing would get done. Still, when having normal conversations with people outside of my culture-bubble, I’m horrified and unsettled by my inability to draw readily on facts to support my beliefs. I don’t trust everything I think, or know, or think I know.

In the final showdown, Betty Gilpin’s Crystal asks Hilary Swank’s Athena why her code name was “Snowball”. In one of the more subtle jabs at left-wing snobbery, Athena snivelingly explains that it’s a reference to Orwell’s Animal Farm. Snowball was one of the pigs.

“I know that,” says Crystal. “But why Snowball? Snowball was an idealist.”

Athena never answers the question. So I can only conclude that it’s for us to speculate.

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