Hanna, this summer’s overlooked action-thriller, isn’t a great movie in the sense that Persona or Nights of Cabiria or Alphaville are great movies; it’s not original inside and out–actually it’s rather derivative throughout.* That being said, it’s a movie I’d recommend above most of the summer’s big thrillers.
Oftentimes with movies (and all the arts) we, as the audience, will get the most out of the works if we don’t try to decipher the director’s intent but what the images themselves call to mind. Directors in the twenty-first century are usually chimeras formed of the producers’ wishes and market research, and so it’s not to them that we should look for enlightenment, but from what they happen to plaster upon the screen.
Images have a life of their own, beyond the artists’ handling of them. So many images affect us because they are potent symbols in our subconscious. Take, for example, the 1982 blockbuster shocker Poltergeist. By no means is this a pinnacle of artistic achievement, but it does remain a great film–despite the filmmakers’ intentions. Throughout the film, there’s this recurring snarky criticism of America in the Reagan era that becomes so overt that you can almost hear Spielberg snickering backstage. Then, for another example of an obvious symbol, look at the famous scene involving the little girl disappearing into the TV. In 1982, the same year as the film’s release, Neil Postman released The Disappearance of Childhood, a book suggesting that with the ease of watching the news on TV, children can see footage of war and disasters, and, in the process, lose their childhood. So the girl vanishing into the TV is a shameless recycling of someone else’s idea. Again, Spielberg and Tobe Hooper must’ve been patting each other on the back. What makes the movie good is the way in which they throw out as many ghostly images as they can at the audience, and some of them stick. The images relate to the unconscious. For a better, more pointed, and more ably handled horror film critiquing the establishment, watch and analyze the Shining.
Similarly, Hanna has this sort of looseness; so much is thrown at the audience: some of it’s boring, other parts are nonsense, but a good many scenes are loaded with meaning. Many critics complained of the film saying it’s illogical. That is the last word I’d use for it. Let’s look at Hanna.
Hanna is a girl raised in isolation, miles away from the rest of humanity (reminiscent of Kaspar Hauser). She absorbs huge amounts of information each day. She keeps herself in peak physical condition. She has no mother and can trust no one completely, not even her father. Now look at the generational trends that are already in progress. Children are becoming increasingly isolated. For reasons of security, so many children are kept within a close proximity to home. Instead of connecting with the rest of humanity in the way people did maybe 50 years ago, they resort to the internet and the huge amount of information that’s available to them. More and more, children are born into broken homes (there’s a very poignant scene where Hanna, hiding in a chest, looks through a small gap at a family playing–anyone born of a broken family will be able to relate to that sensation). So what, I ask, is so illogical about Hanna? If anything, Hanna presents a stark and terrible logic, derived from patterns in place.
So think of it this way, what is the worse fantasy, Hanna or Hannah-Montana? With Hannah-Montana, you have a girl who’s always happy, who has a rich loving father, who has an incredible career in pop music, but who can take off her wig and be a normal girl, free of the neuroses fame engenders. When does that happen? If anything, we are more aware than ever of what being a young celebrity leads to (i.e. Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, or Miss Cyrus herself). Disney though likes to give the idea that being a commercial sensation is perfectly healthy, and that every kid should strive to be a high-fashion superstar. Of course, not everyone can be a pop star, but that won’t stop children from buying all of the clothes necessary to become one. The premise of Hannah-Montana is not only illogical, but it’s dangerously illogical. What happens when today’s children compare their lives to hers? Their lives, with their struggling parents, small allowances, and no chance for much except dismal jobs for a majority of their young adulthood. Hannah-Montana’s is a childhood that never existed, and that shall never exist.
Contrarily, Hanna isn’t a role model, she’s a prototype. Where Postman postulated the disappearance of childhood, with Hanna we have an image of the reappearance of childhood, but not one we will not be able to recognize. With the way things are going in society… Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. Although, I’d sooner welcome a world of Hannas than Hannah Montanas.
*Critics already pointed out its resemblence to the Bourne trilogy, although I’d say that’s an unfair comparison, as Hanna has more of a brain than the yuppy fantasy of Matt Damon. I’d sooner point out that the chase sequences seem lifted from Danny Boyle (complete with Boyle’s signature use of pumping techno) and at times the style devolves into Tarantino pop-art.
If you enjoy contemporary scifi movies like Hanna, you might also like Source Code.