If you choose to view Hanna strictly as an action thriller, the film will work, since its premise lends itself so perfectly to the genre; it’s about a teenage girl, raised by her father to be an assassin, who has left home and is on a mission to survive. If you choose to view it as a modern-day fairy tale, it will work even better. Essentially, it’s the story of a young girl who lived a protected life and is now ready to grow up in the real world. That the ad campaign used phrases such as, “Once upon a time,” only strengthens this assessment, as does the prominent display of fairy tale imagery. The climactic showdown takes place at an abandoned amusement park themed around the Brothers Grimm, and there’s a very distinct shot of Cate Blanchett exiting a tunnel made to look like the mouth of the Big Bad Wolf.
Once upon a time, a young maiden named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lived with her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), in a cabin deep within the snowy forests of Finland. Erik, knowing his daughter would someday leave him, taught her everything he knew about survival; at age sixteen, she could hunt wild game, defend herself in hand-to-hand combat, and shoot at close and long ranges. He even taught her several languages. Although she learned much from the pages of an encyclopedia, she yearned to apply her knowledge to real life experiences. What, for example, is music? She could provide a textbook definition in a heartbeat, but without actually hearing a rhythm or a melody, there was no way for her to really understand it. There were times when she wished her father would alter the historical facts and figures he provided her with, just to make them more interesting.
For years, Erik tried to prepare Hanna for her mission; he even gave her a series of back stories and locations to memorize, for he knew she would need them once she was ready. Feeling the time had finally come, he went into the forest, dug a spot in the earth, and retrieved a mechanical box with a switch on top. He showed it to Hanna, and after some thought, she flipped the switch. She already knew that the box was a transmitter, and that it would send a signal of her location to Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett), a corrupt CIA agent who thinks Erik is a threat to national security. Thus, Erik left his daughter alone, and Hanna was discovered by the CIA and taken to a secret compound buried beneath the Moroccan desert. She didn’t stay long; using her training, she escaped the compound. She then began her journey to Berlin, where she and her father were to reunite. Along the way, she befriended a family of British tourists. She also had to outrun a group of mercenaries hired by Wiegler. The leader, Isaacs (Tom Hollander), was a wicked man who enjoyed whistling.
Wiegler knew that Hanna was a very special young maiden. Hanna, in her ignorance, did not know why the older woman wished her dead; all she had to go on was a piece of paper with a piece of her DNA code printed on it, along with the word “abnormal.” As Hanna tried to make sense of herself, Wiegler was on her own mission to hunt down Erik, who had been spotted several times as he made his way across Europe. She was a cold, calculating, spiteful woman. She was also vain; she took pride in her smile and cleaned her teeth and gums every morning and evening with all manner of dental instruments. Why Wiegler, what big teeth you have.
I’ve been vocal in my hatred of the film Kick-Ass, which was also in part about a young girl trained by her father to be a ruthless assassin. Why would such a thing be acceptable in Hanna? The answer is simple: This time around, underage violence and cold-blooded murder is not regarded as something to be laughed at. Better still, it doesn’t fetishize its main character. Hanna isn’t a superhero or a psychopath by any stretch of the imagination; despite being a proficient killing machine, she sees what she does as survival and takes no pleasure in hurting anyone.
In one of the film’s best scenes, Hanna becomes overwhelmed by the use of electricity in a Moroccan hotel room. Initially, she flips a switch on the wall and stares in amazement at the overhead light. But then the room’s complimentary electric tea kettle (for English tourists) begins to boil over. Then the phone rings. Then the television set becomes a blur of sight and sound. She doesn’t know how to control any of it; frantically, she points the TV remote at everything and randomly pushes buttons. She ultimately flees from the hotel in terror. Isn’t it amazing, how the simplest behaviors can be so difficult to learn, especially when we’re capable of adapting to the most extreme conditions? Hanna is a thrilling ride, but I think it was intended more as a modernized coming-of-age story, and it works well. And like most classic fairy tales, there’s a moral to it: The heart is less important than the head.
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