Ambiguity works strongly in Hanna’s favor.
I had the advantage of seeing Hanna before the marketing campaign kicked in, so I hadn’t seen the commercials or the trailers. And as I write this, I haven’t seen any other reviews, so I have the advantage of not knowing whether it will be universally panned or praised, and what the critical consensus will be. So for now, I embrace the ambiguity and give Hanna the benefit of the doubt, at the risk of being proven remarkably wrong tomorrow when reviews start coming out.
If you haven’t been exposed to the marketing yet, you have my blessing to see Hanna without further ado or expository spoilers. I’ll be here when you come back.
No Bat Mitzvah
Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones) is a very good huntress. She stalks and kills caribou expertly. Her father (Eric Bana) has taught her well in their little rustic cabin in the wilds of what looks like Finland. Lucky for us, they speak English. Hanna also speaks Italian, Spanish, German, probably more. Perhaps the strangest thing she has learned is to sleep so lightly that she can detect a stalker and disarm him before he knows she’s awake. It’s a strange little game father and daughter play.
Hanna knows she is being prepared for some sort of violent life — the life of an assassin possibly? Father won’t explain it until she is ready to move to the next stage... whatever that might be.
She gets no bat Mitzvah. Instead, to mark the passage into adulthood, she flips a switch that radios the CIA and starts a long and complex chain of events. Father shaves his beard and cuts his hair. He puts on a suit and leaves their forest hideaway, leaving Hanna with a few final instructions. She will be on her own now.
Armed men in snow masks arrive that night and surround the cabin, and Hanna is captured. She’s questioned in an industrial facility by strange people, orchestrated by a woman she has been told of in her cabin upbringing — Marissa (Cate Blanchett).
As you may have seen in the trailers, Hanna kicks ass, and so escapes the facility into a desert (where are we?) and joins with a caravanning family of British tourists. Why the family is here in the middle of nowhere, and where “here” is, are two of the many questions that the movie is not too quick to answer.
Lost in the Fun House
I never knew where the movie was going. The idea of a girl being raised as an assassin suggests the fun of an action movie. That Blanchett shows up in the not-too-realistic, futuristic bunkers of the CIA says it’s not a grim and deadly serious movie. But the life-or-death situations indicate this is not a parody. Hanna ‘s genre is a no-man’s-land. Is it an action movie? Is it a teen adventure movie? (It’s rated PG-13.) Is it comedy? Girl power? Exploitation?
My instincts are to dismiss a movie that I don’t know how to read. But there are flourishes and details that hint at something deeper.
There’s a single-take chase scene with Hanna’s father that moves from above ground to below ground and involves lots of elaborate choreography. There is a reference to the great war room in Dr. Strangelove. There are German carnies with a well-balanced blend of evil and clown, and a Chemical Brothers theme that plays in the same ambiguous key. Blanchett’s obsession with oral hygiene suggests some horrific backstory that is never explained.
The ambiguity almost works to convey what it’s like to be Hanna. Not knowing whether to laugh, be afraid, or be energized... that could well be what it’s like. If you were raised in a cabin by your father, with no other friends, and with an acute sense of life-or-death drilled into you, the world might be an ambiguous place, where “normal” families are chaotic and crazy, where stepmother figures have the powers of the CIA, and where a circus — if you’ve never seen one — is a crazy mix of threat, absurdity, and maybe as an afterthought, entertainment.
At the very least, it works as a modern-day fairy tale. It’s about a child growing up without parents, as so many fairy tales are. Her friend leads a “normal” life, which lets her agonize over her place in the world (“my family is so weird”). There are evil men who want to kill the heroine, and a stepmotherish figure who wants to lull her into complacency with false sweet talk.
... Then again, maybe Hanna is just a mess and doesn’t know what genre it wants to fit into.