3 Stars — Troubling

The ancient name of Hanna means “God has favored me.” It implies that the person has some special ability or quality because of God’s blessing. But in Joe Wright’s film, it is not God who makes Hanna special but a rogue government program that manipulated her DNA.

Not only is she stronger than a normal person with heightened senses, but her compassion and mercy have been reduced in order to make her the “perfect soldier.” When the program is canceled, Hanna’s mother and father attempt to save her, and now it is 15 years later when Hanna is coming of age.

Based on a story by Seth Lochhead, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been under the care of Erik (Eric Bana) in the isolating cold of the Arctic Circle. Fearing for her well-being, Erik makes her childhood a brutal combination of academic and martial arts training. Speaking several languages by the time she is a teenager, Hanna also has the ability to hunt for her food and fight to the death. An expert in weapons and in geography, Hanna is uniquely qualified to kill.

This raises the primary moral question of the tale: Although Erik is presented as a person who loves Hanna and wants to protect her, it is obvious that he sees the world as a violent place, so his home-schooling focuses on enhancing her manipulated biology with lethal skills. He does not consider training her in compassion and mercy so that she can be an emotionally healthy person capable of a loving relationship.

This struggle is what gives the film depth. Although there is no person in the film with any wisdom, and even what discussion there is of God comes from a ditsy new-age mother-substitute who has no concern that Hanna is void of any belief, Hanna struggles with knowing who she is. A medical report that calls her “abnormal” unnerves her. When she is befriended by Sophie (Jessica Barden), this first relationship causes her to feel a warmth that has not been present in her life since her mother died. It also causes her to admit that she doesn’t know herself.

Most of this film focuses on Hanna being sought by Marissa (Cate Blanchett). We won’t spoil the reason why or how the predictable showdown ends, but the action has us on the edge of our seats as we see just how favored Hanna is as she fights to survive.

It is understandable that as genetic research continues, we have artists exploring what might happen if this ability is used for creating soldiers rather than lovers. That we could create a dispassionate person who cares nothing for those she kills is something to fear, but as this film explains, such people already exist in sociopaths like Marissa and Lewis (John MacMillan) whose souls have become darkened without the assistance of DNA manipulation. Perhaps that is the message we all need to hear.


» If you had been Eric, how would you have raised this special little girl?

» Do you believe scientists are manipulating the DNA of people to create a “super” human? On what basis do you answer that question?

» The necessity of removing God’s moral teaching from Hanna’s survival education left her without an internal compass. Is that different from teaching children in schools where religious faith is removed? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.