There have been a lot of movies lately about teenagers with extraordinary powers, most of them either imaginary, legendary, magical, or extraterrestrial. Here’s a different twist: an adolescent girl who’s especially strong and smart because her genetics were altered at inception. But the problem with test-tube genetic manipulation is that the poor kid doesn’t grow up with anything resembling a normal family environment, which makes her not only a biological mutant, but an undersocialized freak. You can’t raise a human in social isolation and then expect her to be normal. That’s part of the marvel and mystery of being human: our identity is also shaped by our context, and our environment, and our cultural acclimatization. At a certain level, this educational benefit discussion could include home schooling in general, and single parenting in particular. But the trouble is, how do we know how she would have turned out had she had a different upbringing? None of us will ever know that, though we may speculate until the petrie dishes evaporate from the applied heat.
Already-veteran child actor Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, the mysterious teenage girl being raised in the Finnish forest by her Dad, an ex-CIA agent, so she can be the best spy ever. She seems really into it, too: stalking and shooting a deer with a bow and arrow, and then tracking it and gutting it herself. Firearms practice, hand-to-hand combat training, martial arts: always against someone bigger and stronger. Language instruction. Memorization of encapsulated history, specific geography, certain powerful political figures…but no Mother’s love. No dolls. No make-up. No primping or shopping with her friends, or texting endlessly on her cell phone about nothing at all. In a way, she grows up a stranger on her own planet. In another way, her natural physical gifts are enhanced to a point that no opponent is quite prepared for her sudden furious onslaught---which, of course, is part of her huge potential. That, and her enormous adaptability.
Her father, Erik (Eric Bana), told her that the bad guys killed her mother, and that they were going to come after them, too, as soon as their spies came in from the cold. Well, when the promised deadly chase begins in earnest, she discovers that he did tell her the truth that they would be after her relentlessly. But he lied to her about almost everything else. So now whom does she trust? Complete strangers? Some random girl normal teenage girl she happens to meet at a tourist hotel? What about those who say they know her, and claim they are trying to protect her, but she can also identify the same cold ruthlessness in their eyes that she saw in her father’s, and now recognizes in herself. And just because you’re raised to be paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
“Hanna” will struggle with a target audience---who can really identify with this kind of character? The secondary performances are mostly disappointing----especially the fake Southern redneck accent of Australian Cate Blanchett. But Hanna is the kind of poignant character who only wishes to find out where her true home is, and to go there. On a deeply personal level, we can all relate to that.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas