The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
People will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
Director Joe Wright’s (Atonement; The Soloist) new film is a gripping addition to the thriller/revenge or vengeance genre, the action enhanced by the driving music of The Chemical Brothers. Its 16 year-old heroine Hanna (Saoirse Ronan—first seen in Atonement) is a far cry from one of John Hughes’ teenaged heroines, Hanna being raised in the deep forests of northern Finland by her ex-CIA father Erik (Eric Bana) with one purpose in mind—vengeance. No high school and friends for her. Erik has home-schooled her, the only books on hand being an old encyclopedia and a small copy of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. No Bibles here either, and so neither would have been familiar with Psalm 58, though they would have agreed with the writer’s sentiment.
Day in and day out Erik has trained his daughter in all the arts of killing—martial arts, the use of a knife, and of guns. Plus at least six languages, one of which is Arabic. He has told her that when she feels ready to go out into the world on her mission, she will switch on the geo-tracking device—but she should know that once she does so, there will be no turning back.
After a brief sequence in which we see her hunting skills and practice bouts with her father in martial arts fighting, Hanna decides she is ready. Erik packs his knapsack and leaves, arranging with his daughter a rendezvous in Berlin.
Far off in Washington, DC, during a meeting CIA official Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is told that a signal from northern Finland has been received. She tells her colleagues that it is from a former agent named Erik who disappeared years earlier. When asked about his mission at the time, she says menacingly, “You don’t want to know.” Back at the cabin Hanna has not yet left when a squad of heavily armed Americans are dropped from a helicopter and surround the cabin.
After a brief resistance, Hanna is captured and taken to a CIA redoubt under the sands of Morocco. Clad now in an orange jumpsuit, Hanna is held in an interrogation room. When a woman interrogator enters, Hanna asks if she is Marissa Wiegler. The interrogator replies that she is. Hanna, breaking into tears embraces the woman. After a moment of this, she suddenly twists the woman’s head clear around, snapping her neck. As the real Marissa watches, Hanna has dispatched the guard and snatched his gun, quickly shooting out all the surveillance cameras.
Crawling through the maze of ventilation and sewage pipes, Hanna emerges onto the surface and eludes the helicopters full of soldiers searching for her. The first person she encounters near a highway is Sophie (Jessica Barden), a very talkative teenager Hanna’s age. When her parents call, Sophie leaves. A few hours later Hanna is given shelter in town by a friendly Moroccan, evidently impressed that she speaks Arabic. Hanna encounters Sophie again and her jovial English family touring the country in a converted van. Living the free-style life of hippies, the parents, along with Sophie and her younger brother, welcome Hanna. When the family leaves for Spain, Hanna sneaks into the van. Discovered the next day, the parents worry about the unattached girl, but take her in anyway. Sophie is delighted to have a new friend, and Hanna is equally so to have her first friend.
Hanna’s idyll with the English family, that includes a late night time motorcycle ride with two Spanish boys, is brief because a trio of CIA-hired killers are hot on her trail, with Marisa also close by. We soon wonder if the kindly family will come to regret their hospitality. As Hanna is chased across Europe, finally arriving in Berlin where Erik awaits her, the tension mounts until the final face-off between teenager and CIA killer takes place in an eerie abandoned amusement park.
In the hands of a director and cast with less talent, this might have played out as just another amoral chase picture, part of what now is a thriller sub-genre in which CIA agents are not heroes, but villains. We learn, of course, why Hanna is wanted dead, and also more of the circumstances of the death of Erik’s wife. For most viewers, this will be a memorable chase thriller, but for people of faith, the film could be a parable of what a world without God is like, one in which the meek will never possess the earth, but only those skilled in killing will prevail, in so far as they are willing to use those skills.
1. What is the basic motivation that drives Erik, and therefore, of Hanna?
2. What do you think his training regimen has done to Hanna’s psyche? Why do you think he has left music out of her upbringing, and thus has to tell her what it is? Can you imagine growing up without listening to music, or singing/humming?
3. What do you think of filmmakers’ now well-established practice of making CIA agents the villains? What does this say about the human ability to corrupt things that were founded to protect our republic? What seems to motivate Marissa? Why does she want to terminate Hanna? What other films have you seen in which an agency of the US government wants to create super soldiers?
4. What do Sophie and her family bring to Hanna? At the parting of the two girls, how did you feel when she said, “Thank you for being my friend” ?
5. Where do you see God in this film? If we view this as “a parable of what a world without God is like,” how might you change Christ’s beatitudes? ( “Blessed are the meek,” for they shall inherit nothing.” Or, Blessed are those skilled in the arts of death, for they shall terminate the peacemakers.” Or—?