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TV/Film Ten years later, “Hanna” is still a great coming-of-age film

Oct. 13, 2021
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Ten years ago, Joe Wright’s Hanna debuted in cinemas. A drastic departure from his period dramas, the film tells the story of the titular Hanna, a young girl raised in the wilderness by her callous father, Erik. He trains her to sneak up on animals undetected, until she’s revealed to be highly skilled in martial arts and incredibly smart. But Hanna has only known the life her father has shown her, and she’s ultimately forced to leave it behind to track down a woman who knows important things about her past. While it’s an action film, Hanna’s true successes are in its quiet moments—when it unfolds like a coming-of-age film. 

Hanna leaves her father and soon meets Sophie, a brash and confident girl her age. Sophie quickly takes Hanna under her wing, bringing Hanna to meet her eclectic family while they’re on holiday in Morocco. While Hanna’s social skills are lacking, Hanna and Sophie operate quietly, with Sophie seeming content with Hanna’s quirks. It’s the perfect depiction of the "rich-girl-weird-friend" trope. One night, the two escape from Sophie’s parents and get dolled up to meet boys. Sophie seems excited, but of course Hanna is confused. Later that night a boy tries to kiss Hanna and she attacks him. While she is an assassin and it may be instinctive, this proves that Hanna may not be interested in boys, period. 

As the family travels, they allow Hanna to take refuge in their RV. One day, while they’re laying in bed bathed in light, Hanna tells Sophie about her concerns about who she is. She uses words like “abnormal” to describe herself. There are lingering shots of the girls' hands, fingers slowly gliding over each other's limbs, like they’re trying to understand each other. Hanna, in a moment of vulnerability, says, “I’d like to have a friend.” Sophie replies, “I mean, you’re a freak and everything, but I like you.” Then, Hanna kisses her. It’s an innocent moment of discovery and a beautiful instance of two young people slowly falling for each other. Sophie closes her eyes and the camera slowly pans closer as she smiles. The relationship these two have is one filled with trust and tenderness, and once they have to depart, Hanna seems hesitant to leave. But she does; she stares into Sophie’s eyes and says, “Thank you for being my friend.”

From the beginning, the film is accompanied by a beautiful score from The Chemical Brothers. While it can be heady and innovative in its technological flare, there’s a particular track titled “Hanna’s Theme” which encompasses the character perfectly. There are two versions of the track—one with vocals and one without. In the instrumental version, chimes trickle in then give way to humming vocals. It’s breezy and soulful; it plays when Hanna is driving with Sophie’s family. She sticks her head out the open window and breathes in the air like she’s just realized this is what life is about. In the version with lyrics, vocalist Stephanie Dosen sings, “Dream / how I dream to feel,” further affirming that it’s the little moments that make our lives. While it’s short-lived, at this moment with her newfound family Hanna is finally able to live as a teenage girl. 

Hanna’s relationships are what ground the film in its quietness. People treat Hanna like the child she is, rather than the killer machine her father raised her to be. Hanna’s relationship with her father is more than that, though: when they meet again, he explains that he tried his best to prepare her for whenever she realized she was a super-soldier. Both of them are close to tears as she replies, “You didn’t prepare me for this.” Although he tried to train her, Erik could not have prepared a child to be a soldier. This only further speaks to Hanna’s goodness. She doesn’t want to live the life she’s been destined for; she wants to be a kid who makes friends and listens to music. 

While the film didn’t seem to make a dent in the industry, it directly inspired many films that followed it. It took a few years, but toward the end of the 2010s, there was a boom in the “female assassin” genre. Films like Red Sparrow (2018), Terminal (2018), and Atomic Blonde (2018) all feature blonde women who are good at killing. Atomic Blonde comes the closest to mirroring Hanna, not in its plot but in its technical aspects. Set in the ‘80s, the film has a synth-heavy score, stylized fight sequences, and a bisexual main character. Two Luc Besson films, Lucy (2014) and Anna (2019), both follow in Hanna’s footsteps, too, named after their main characters—all blonde assassins. 

Hanna was ahead of its time. From its ultra-electronic score to its queer coding, it would be hailed as an instant cult classic if it came out today. In 2011, Scream 4 and Insidious also made their debut, burying Hanna among its more commercially successful peers. Hanna went on to only make $63 million at the box office—just slightly more than double its budget—and since then it feels like it’s been forgotten. In 2019, Amazon developed an original series based on the film which seems to have translated better with audiences, but the original film shouldn’t be dismissed. The film’s fantastic, practical action scenes are worth celebrating, but ultimately it’s the genre-bending that make Hanna so good: a fun assassin plot gives way to an excellent coming-of-age film exploring sexuality and girlhood. Ten years later, Hanna continues to prove that the genres it falls into have more to offer than what has become normalized in the industry.