In the wake of the success of Wonder Woman, the conversation around the possibility of the successful female-led superhero film has been reignited, and rightfully so considering how long it has taken to get to the screen. When one throws the Lasso of Truth around the history of Hollywood film, the work of James Cameron alone (Aliens, Terminator etc.) debunks the misconception that male audiences won’t watch female-led action films.
However, even within that idea, a certain type of archetype, the Lioness protecting her cub, is allowed to have agency over her narrative. What Wonder Woman has done is allowed the single, female protagonist to take charge of her own quest and both sacrifice herself for the greater good and integrate into a society, you know, like heroes do.
A form of freedom from gender archetypes is not the need to save, but the right to be a badass. Not necessarily locked into a “couples on the run” hetero-normative, bullet-ridden relationship (Bonnie and Clyde, Gun Crazy, etc.), nor a woman exacting just revenge (Kill Bill, I Spit on Your Grave, Ms. 45), but a woman experiencing the contradictions of being a living weapon.
Joe Wright’s Hanna (2011) offers such a narrative and presents a child who is never given the power to transform. From the onset of her journey, Hanna (featuring a brilliant early performance by Saoirse Ronan) is a loaded pistol with the safety off, a killer locked into a training sequence who never had to find the master. As she repeats twice in the film, “I just missed the heart”; she is incapable of fully experiencing love. She is something more than human and because of that she simply cannot connect to normalcy, be it the mobility and love shared between a family or simply going on a date. Being raised by a super spy (Eric Bana) whose family value is survival does have its drawbacks.
Wright places Hanna in a fairytale narrative complete with her own Big Bad Wolf to slay (played by an ever-so-arch Cate Blanchett). Loaded with both Grimm Brothers’ references and a head-nodding Chemical Brothers score, Hanna takes the post-modern blender to both the revenger’s tale and the “on-the-run” narrative. The action set pieces are more competent than heart stopping, but there is an emotional resonance that transcends the typical mind-numbing body count escalation. She is such an efficient killer because she cannot connect and you see a picture of a childhood denied with every fist thrown.
There are moments where a vision of bonding exists, but it is as much of a fairytale for Hanna than anything from her favorite storybook. Once on the lam, Hanna stows away in a hippy family’s RV. There, she watches the family goofily dance and sing Bowie’s “Kooks” as the parents almost certainly embarrass their kids. Hanna is left to watch the familial antics through a peephole, unable to be a part of such carefree revelry. It stings, as an assassin’s arctic eye is most comfortable peering through the scope of a rifle.
She forms a friendship with the daughter of this family and is even given a friendship bracelet by the make-up loving girl, who acts as a double of sorts and a window into a more “typical” teenage girl life. Such rituals and relationships are short-lived for a true killer.
Even her primal relationships are refuted as her past unspools before her/our eyes. Her memories that resonate are those that are fabricated as cover to execute her mission. She is not inhuman, she is something greater, and unfortunately lesser. Once a superhero masters powers that alienate them, their greatness allows them to both transcend and integrate into culture. They become a beacon of possibility to us mere mortals. They save the day.
Ultimately, Hanna can’t even save herself. Her journey ends exactly as it begins, the only difference being the target. While in the fairytale, the slaying of the dragon signals the possibility for a new self, Hanna’s mission was so singular that it offers little more than picking up the pieces and deciding what’s next. One can imagine her future-self becoming a bounty hunter if the film spilled over into the sequel camp, but thankfully it doesn’t.
What we have is a vision of the toll that revenge can take, a girl being denied the things that a child needs. We are left with the portrait of being extraordinary and questioning whether the pursuit is worthwhile. Like all tragic heroes, she has no choice. If Hanna wore a cape, it would be to mask a broken heart.
Hanna can be streamed on Amazon Prime: http://amzn.to/2sq7mUv
The Rewind will be an ongoing column by Jonathan “Swifty” Lang exploring the films you should discover on streaming services.