Hanna: not a brain sludge film

I’m fairly predictable. My closest friends can tell at a glance what I’ll like and what I won’t. I like female empowerment movies, or at least films in which the heroine holds her own. If she happens to be toting around a Magnum or a mean scissor kick, all the better. This is why when the trailer for Mr. & Mrs. Smith first aired, my best friend gouged me in the side with her scrawny elbow and whispered loud enough for everyone in the theater to hear, “Oh, my gosh, that is SO YOUR KIND OF MOVIE!” It was. It so was. When I was not enjoying seeing Angelina Jolie knock around Pretty Boy (what can I say? I only like Brad Pitt in vampire movies, because a cravat can make almost any guy gorgeous… except Daniel Craig) I was intellectually relishing the fact that the entire film was a metaphor for marriage. (You can work together and survive, or you can work against each other and perish.) I love brain food.

Alas, some people do not pick up on my predictability. I assume they have their reasons and excuses, but if they want to stomp into a minefield, that’s their problem for not paying attention. Many years back, one of my guy friends suggested I watch James Bond. He assumed because it was a spy thriller that I would love it. I set him straight by scowling and answering, “I hate that womanizing toerag!!” (… he never did ask me out. I wonder why.)

The trailers for Hanna made me suspect I’d like it, but I didn’t expect to get much out of it. I figured a couple of hours with a female assassin on the run from bad guys might be fun, but I’d walk away from it and never look back.

Uh, no.

Every once in awhile you see a movie and it gets under your skin. It intrigues you on some level, disturbs you on another, and refuses to leave your mind once you’ve shut it off. Such is Hanna.

Granted, I’m a bit of a Bible-thumping feminist. Nothing pleases me more than to see a heroine who fits the term “badass.” (In my world, it means super cool and not someone to mess with. Thin Helen Magnus from Sanctuary.)  This film’s premise appealed to me for that reason, but symbolism also appeals to me. I like your average brain sludge popcorn movie as much as the mindless masses do (and in some cases maybe more – I’m the sort of person who buys a ticket to Twilight movies just to sit in the back row and laugh), but throw something good in there, something for my brain to chew on, and I’m like Moffat’s Sherlock on a case – giddy. Three nicotine patches giddy. Insult Anderson giddy. (If you’re not getting these references, get up and rent Sherlock. I’ll wait.)

Hanna made me a bit giddy.

Who knew messy white-blonde hair could be so fabulous? Or that an ultra-artsy movie could actually be really amazing? Or that a pulse-pounding soundtrack could make me run out to the store and buy a band I’d never even heard of? This movie is shocking, disturbing, frightening, and… cool. I dig cool. The truly cool can save a lot of otherwise bad movies (Underworld franchise, I am looking at you, with nothing but genuine adoration in my heart). Fortunately, Hanna doesn’t need the boon of coolness, since the script is decent all on its own. It has everything that makes a movie great, even though a great deal of it is comprised of shots of Hanna running, which could get boring but somehow isn’t. I do take issue with the ending and was hoping for more of a twist, but that is the bane of being a writer — you always stop to think about where you would have taken a plot line.

I won’t say this movie is perfect. It did not open on a good note for me, since it begins with her hunting down a caribou. I’m not big on hunting or any other form of animal deaths in movies. The poor thing runs for miles with an arrow in its side before it collapses and she puts it out of its misery with a bullet. (You care about the caribou more than all the people she kills? Absolutely. Those people knew what they were signing up for – that caribou didn’t.) Now before you accuse me of being a liberal, please remember that I come from hunting country and have nothing against hunters. I just don’t want to be involved or to watch. There are “do not hunt” and “no hunting” signs posted all around out the boonies in the middle of nowhere from which I originate. I grew up in a place where Grandma’s Bible is on the coffee table and Grandpa’s shotgun is above the door and that’s pretty much how it is in everyone’s house. I’m not against hunting. I’m a realist and know people have to eat. I’m against missing. If you kill something, do it right – don’t let the poor creature suffer. Apparently, Hanna and I have that in common.

Normal (and by normal I mean “lame”) coming of age stories feature a girl learning to wear makeup and kissing her first boy and blah, blah, blah… this coming of age story features Hanna fighting to survive in a world set against her, with a demented CIA agent hot on her trail (played by Cate Blanchett, which means her character is evil but in an awesome way… not that I watch movies just for Cate or anything), and the first boy that tries to pucker his lips at her gets a face full of dirt before being thanked politely for the experience. What I really loved was seeing this isolated girl enter the modern world – where things like electric lights fascinate her, ceiling fans freak her out, and she cannot figure out how to work a television, she drinks from a swimming pool and screams when confronted with new things not out of fear but total excitement. It’s cute. It’s endearing. It makes us like her. And that’s a good thing considering she’s a trained assassin with minimal compassion.

But what is really nifty is looking beneath the surface to the symbolism involved; the writer and director have taken their story and given it fairy tale overtones, sometimes subtle and at other times overt. It has an innocent girl raised in the woods by her father who is pursued by an evil queen and her murderous henchmen. I cannot quite figure out if Marissa (Blanchett) is supposed to be an evil queen or given her obsession with her teeth, the Big Bad Wolf! It’s like someone took a fairy tale, injected it with steroids, and turned it loose – the parallels are sometimes all over the place and sometimes intentionally striking, such as the climax of the film centering around a Brothers Grimm play land of sorts. (Only this movie could taint a child’s wonderland with such dark intelligence — the Brothers Grimm, who wrote some pretty messed up stuff, would be proud.)

And even though it’s disturbing in context, I love that the last line of the film was also the opening line. That pretty much says everything you need to know about Hanna, but it is by no means the extent of her emotional journey.

This isn’t a movie that will appeal to the masses, just to those among us sufficiently twisted enough to appreciate a film that impacts on so many levels and gives you closure of a chilling kind. When the movie first came out, there was a bit of firepower exchanged between directors, because this director aimed some much-deserved slams at Sucker Punch, calling its propensity toward sexualizing its empowered women sheer bull. As much as I loved the ambiguity, coolness, and symbolism of Sucker Punch, I have to agree with him: putting an actress in skin tight clothes undermines female empowerment. You can have one or the other, you can’t have both. (Are you listening, Robin Hood? Sending Marion out into battle and then needing Robin to save her was an Epic Fail.)

Hanna doesn’t wear skintight clothes; most of the time she is dressed in shapeless things. But in the end, it’s not her outfits that we’ll remember. And that is how it should be.

7 thoughts on “Hanna: not a brain sludge film

Add yours

  1. Hannah: Generally, when deciding to see a movie or not, I just read the content portion of a review and then go back later and read the rest. 😉

    I kind of despise Cate being the Big Bad Wolf, because I like her too much! I think you're right, this is the first time I've seen her with a Southern accent — and she was deliberately overdoing it, too.

    Naomi: I'm glad it wasn't a bad blind buy for you. (Ponderings? Is that your blog? I only see your personal blog in your user information.) It's neat that your sister resembles Hanna — looks, wise. =D

  2. Well, I went against your advice and bought it. 😉 Yes, we both really enjoyed it. Very thought provoking… so much so that I wrote a review about it on Ponderings. 🙂 Definitely a movie I will watch again some day. I would love to show it to my sister Ellie who looks and acts (minus the killing :P) a lot like Hanna…

  3. Interesting! I just watched Hanna this evening, so I read your review today (I like to read reviews after the fact sometimes, haha).

    I have to agree about Cate Blanchett possibly being the big bad wolf.. just look for the mouth of the tunnel in the theme park. 🙂

    The film is rather interesting.. I'm still attempting to process it all. It was a bit more violent than most films I tend to watch, but I agree that there is something about the character Hanna that is compelling. 🙂

    A side-note from the quality of the film: I thought it was really interesting to see Cate Blanchett attempt a Southern accent. I don't think I've ever seen her in that kind of role.

  4. So glad you decided to write a blog post, Charity. =)

    I was interested in “Hanna” to some extent, even though I “knew” it would not be a favorite, but I hadn't read about all of the controversy it sparked… I'll have to read your review, and go from there.

  5. Naomi: I tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but I do recommend renting this movie rather than purchasing it outright — simply because it IS so controversial in its themes. I suspect you will either really like it or hate it!

    Here's my official review (nominal spoilers there as well).

  6. Jesse and I saw this movie in Wal-mart the other day and thought about getting it. We don't like getting things without seeing it first so we didn't… but from what I read of this blog post (I didn't read all of it because of … spoilers!) it sounds as though our gut instincts were right once again. 😉

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