Hanna, a Modern Fairytale
By Alex Cranz
Hanna is a fairytale. The motif is there from the start. The titular character relishes the moments she can climb into bed and read from a dog-eared copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. When she is forced out into the great wide world and away from the insular little cabin in the woods where she was raised, she is given only one place to find. A house at the center of a theme park based on, you guessed it, Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Cate Blanchett plays an evil stepmother/sorceress sort with fastidious grooming habits. Every time we watch her spend a few minutes picking, and brushing and scrubbing her teeth, we’re forced to look at the little opalescent nubs in a neat little row. My what big teeth you have Cate Blanchett.
Hanna is helped on her journey. A guileless innkeeper. A wayward family. A wise tinkerer. Her odyssey brings to mind that of another young girl. I found myself thinking of Gerda and her mission to save Kai from the frigid Snow Queen. And as the story of Hanna unfolds you can see where it might be influenced by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of platonic love and devotion. Hanna, her father (played by a very fit Eric Bana) and Cate Blanchett’s Marissa Wiegler form a similar triangle. Wiegler’s actions have frozen Hanna’s father’s heart and whether he likes it or not he is still a slave to her whims. But Hanna, unlike Gerda, isn’t entirely informed on why she makes her journey. Her actions aren’t motivated by a desire to rescue her father, but by a much more modern (and tired) conceit: revenge.
I’m not sure who I should blame for popularizing revenge as a major motivator in modern action films. Maybe Quentin Tarantino. Maybe a gaggle of Hollywood producers. Maybe the assholes who perpetrated the horrific events on September 11, 2001 and set America aflame with rage. Can you think of another nation or another time where righteous anger was expressed on such a national level?
And it’s stuck to us. Clinging to every story we tell. In Hanna it’s gone international. Americans aren’t the only ones out for retribution. Hanna had a mother once. And now her mother is gone, her father is lost and all Hanna has is the name of the woman she should hate. Marissa Wiegler.
Hollywood has trained us to look for statements on gender whenever more than one woman plays the lead in a film. It’s such a rarity that the filmmakers HAVE to be saying something right? Otherwise they’d just cast a guy for the part and be done with it.
And in Hanna you have a girl assassin, an evil lady villain and lots of subtext about motherhood. So director Joe Wright has to be saying something. But he’s not. The film is devoid of commentary on gender. Hanna could have been Han and the story would have remained the same.
Hanna’s a teenage assassin. Usually when films feature teenage assassins they select girls to play them because it’s “sexy.” Even Kick-Ass stops and takes the opportunity to put Hit Girl in a school uniform. People like the idea of the innocent little girl hiding a heart of darkness. It makes it more socially acceptable to lust after them.
Hanna isn’t an object of lust. There is never an attempt fetishize her status as a teenage assassin. Her clothes are almost purposely baggy. There are moments that should be sexual in nature. A kiss from a boy. A stolen moment beneath a sheet in a tent. They’re desexualized. The moments are more about just how innocent this violent little killer is.
And that is how Hanna is like Gerda. Despite the violence. Despite the killing. Hanna is still an innocent. There is a purity to her that only a fairytale heroine can properly maintain. Even revenge, a spectacularly selfish and dark motivation, cannot sully Hanna’s purity.