Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More Human Than Human: Hanna

 "Once upon a time, there was a very special girl who lived in the woods with her father. . . "
Yes, well, once upon a time, a time of excess, vapidity, and CG, there was a film that stood out. Its star was a sixteen year old girl whose face was unpainted and who never once revealed her breasts. Its director was a man whose vision was like every film you've ever seen and no film you've ever seen. Joe Wright's Hanna is like a puzzle, a Valentine to German cinema, and a fairy tale all wrapped into one. The mise en scene is breathtaking. The underlying theme is amazing. And there's techno. In other words, yeah, it's worth the buzz. 
The story is simple: an agency searches for someone infinitely wiser and more skilled than it, someone who knows things, someone who is in on secrets, cover-ups, and other bits of bad business. The sought-afters are a father/daughter pair, Erik (Eric Bana) and Hanna (Saoirse Ronan). If Erik, a former CIA agent, is the knower of the bad business then Hanna is the product of it, and he's spent her entire life preparing her for what will ultimately end up being the chase of her life. That's pretty much it; there are a few twists and turns along the way, a formidable enemy (played by Cate Blanchett), and a bit of trickery over "what" Hanna really is, but honestly, and I mean this with the utmost respect, the plot is the least remarkable thing in this (remarkable) film.  

The look, feel, and sound to this picture are all incredible. Colors, shapes, and vastness are everywhere; the snowy forest in Finland, the steely-circular holding rooms, the harsh shadows and lights played on the rotating columns as an army of agents chase by in lateral formation (there's your link to German expressionism; they used to just paint the blacks and whites onto the floors and walls--this had that feel but on a bigger scale). An open desert. Rectangular train cars. Spinning merry-go-rounds. The motion and movement never stop. The crazy thing is---and this very largely due to the music, original by The Chemical Brothers---we don't want it to. This was the first film in a long time that made me want to go back to the beginning and watch it all over again. To say the music was well-matched with the action would be an understatement; it gave the action such an unbelievable flow and drive that it's nearly impossible to separate Hanna's sequences from the melodies that were playing during them. Killer, just absolutely killer.
So beside the aesthetics, what of Hanna herself? She's a teenage girl who was raised by her father in isolation. Her innocence ends when she emerges into a giant, open world to fend for herself. These places are just as new to Hanna as the people who inhabit them, but somehow she's at ease, comfortable even. The "bad business" with the CIA and the reason for the chase by the end of the film become moot points; Hanna is special for many more reasons than her pursuers believe, which begs the question: what reason does Central Intelligence need for engineering super-soldier DNA when the product turns out to be more in touch with humanity than those who created her? Whatever the answer, it was a lovely ride.