Hanna – Movie Review (And a comparison to Soul Surfer)

Hanna – Movie Review (And a comparison to Soul Surfer)

Review by Stacey Tuttle

Personally, I found Hanna to be a very unsatisfying story – but what has remained with me after the movie is not the movie itself, but these lingering thoughts on WHY it was, at least for me, such an unsatisfying story. 

The story itself:

The movie begins with Hanna, in some cold, snowy region of the world, alone with her father.  It’s solitary, cold, quiet, and a bit disturbing.  Nothing about it feels normal or has the warmth of real human affection.  While a more in depth analysis of film angles, techniques, and symbolism might be interesting, the plot line will suffice for this review.   It’s soon evident that every minute of this teenager’s life is training (for unknown purposes ) in languages, in marksmanship, in battle, and in knowledge.

And she feels she is ready.  She wants to push an ominous button (a signal beacon) to begin her life in the outside world.  There is one thing she must do, however, before she begins her life in the “real” world.  She must assassinate someone named Marissa, and activating that ominous button will start the process.  It will alert Marissa to her location who will come and find her, which is what Hanna wants, as it will make her quest to assassinate Marissa that much easier.  A quest Hanna has accepted as necessary, but strangely has never felt the need to understand or question why.

Of course, it doesn’t go quite as simply as planned.  Hanna discovers she is the only surviving child of a governmental program to genetically engineer the perfect soldiers—soldiers with increased genetic strength and stamina, and decreased fear, pity and empathy.  Theoretically, these genetically-altered soldiers were to have less conscience about doing their job, and therefore less emotional baggage after having done it.  Her “father” was just someone who could not stand to watch all the two year old children be murdered when the program was cancelled, so he smuggled her out.  Marissa will either want to kill Hanna in order to eliminate the last remaining evidence of the program, or exploit her as a success.   Either way, Marissa has to die for Hanna to live.[1] 

That’s a lot to swallow, even for a genetically altered, un-empathetic super-soldier teenager.  In the end, a lot of people die, including Hanna’s “father” and her biological grandmother (leaving her all alone in the world).  In the climactic final scene, (one which, in a sort of cinematic full circle, hearkens back to the first scene in the movie with Hanna and a deer) Hanna wounds Marissa with an arrow and disturbingly declares, “I just missed your heart.”  She then pulls out a gun and finishes the job.  In the end, Marissa, along with countless others, dies, but Hanna is free, and that seems to have been the point of the movie. 

WHY:  Why I think the story is unsatisfying, and why that matters

As I said earlier, I felt the story proved to be ultimately very unsatisfying.  If I thought it was just a matter of taste, however, I wouldn’t bother to write about it here.  But there seems to be something deeper than mere personal preference at the heart of it, something which does matter.  Something which I do think is worth writing about and discussing. 

As a Christian, I believe that we are all a part of a great, unfolding drama.  A drama written by the greatest author of all times who is also the hero of the story:  God, Himself.  His story, the one He has written us into, is the original story and the ultimate story.  There is no greater story. 

I also believe that all other stories that we may conceive succeed or fail to satisfy us as human beings to the degree that they mirror or deviate from (respectively) that great, original story.[2] 

So what about Hanna?  Did it mirror the Christian story or deviate from it?  In a nutshell, the movie is about Hanna gaining freedom, and certainly freedom is significant to the message of Christ.  Galatians 5:1 declares, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”  But, how did Christ set us free?  He gave his own life.  He sacrificed his life through death on a cross so that mankind might find freedom through reconciliation to God.  That’s a little different from Hanna’s story – in fact, it’s pretty much opposite (unless you look at it from her father’s position – he did give his life so Hanna could be free.)  If you think about it from Hanna’s point of view, numerous people suffered and/or died, many at her own hand, so that she could be free. 

It’s not just that others died to protect or save her, as her father did, but that she killed others to gain her own freedom.   Furthermore, all of those deaths weren’t necessarily self-defense.  It all started with her choice to push a button, alerting Marissa to her whereabouts…so that, once Marissa found her, Hanna could assassinate her.  I still don’t understand why Hanna could not have just quietly gone out into society to live a normal life.  I still don’t understand why she had to alert Marissa and then assassinate her (except for the necessity of jump starting the plot). 

I think the point may be made a little clearer by comparing Hanna to another recent release, Soul Surfer, the remarkable true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton who turned professional after a shark bit off her arm.  Bethany was an inspiration to people around the world as she overcame incredible difficulties and heartache with grace and determination.  A reporter asked her, if she could go back and do that fateful day differently, would she want to change it and not get in the water?  Bethany replied that she wouldn’t do anything differently.  Why?  Because she found that she could embrace the world better with one arm than she could with two.  It seems that, in Bethany’s eyes, losing an arm was a small and worthy sacrifice for the opportunity to make a difference in the world and help encourage and support so many others who suffered. 

The Bible says that, “Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my [Jesus’] sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) In Soul Surfer, it seems that Bethany lost her life when she lost her arm, but in the end, she gained so much more than she lost.  Conversely, in Hanna, she sought to find her life of freedom but in the process lost her innocence, her family, even her friends.  Frankly, I’m not so sure that she really found her life in the end.  I think I left feeling that she lost much more than she had gained. 

I said that I feel that stories (movies) succeed or fail to satisfy us to the extent that they either mirror or deviate from God’s ideal, His story. 

As I compare the two stories, Hanna and Soul Surfer, I think that this is the answer to why the one felt so disappointing and empty and the other was so incredibly satisfying.  Bethany Hamilton’s story is so nearly that of Christ—finding joy in bringing hope and freedom to others through the sacrifice of her arm.  Whereas Hanna’s story is so very opposite that of Christ’s—sacrificing the lives of others for her own personal gain. 

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are some of the stories you find are the most satisfying?  Do you see ways in which they mirror God’s ideal?
  • What about your least favorite stories?  Do you find that what you dislike about them is some place in which they deviate from God’s ideal?
  • What did you think about Hanna
  • In the end, do you think Hanna gained or lost? 
  • Do you think Hanna had any other choices about how she went about gaining a “normal” life?  Do you think the story would have been different if her “father” had given her all the information about who she was?


[1] At least, that is what the movie proposes.  I personally felt that was a plot flaw.  It was not apparent to me that the only possible solution was to search and assassinate Marissa for Hanna to live.  I felt they either needed to do a better job convincing me of that, or they could have played out the story in an alternate and more satisfying way. 

[2] I should here confess that this thought is not my own.  It has been growing in me for years, subtly planted, watered and nourished by the great minds and writings of others such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Calvin Miller, Kurt Bruner, and a handful of other teachers, friends and mentors.  If I could point to one quote, one author, I would gladly do so, they undoubtedly have penned these ideas with far greater eloquence and insight that I am able to.