This spring’s action-thriller Hanna, written by Canadian (and Vancouver Islander) Seth Lochhead, and directed by Joe Wright, is a quiet testimony of reactionary politics and white interests. Couched in its predominantly German setting and German characters, and offering a German villain and neo-Nazi henchmen, the notion of white nationalism and white interests is quickly drawn up in the not-so-distant background. Add to this Hanna, a wondrous product of genetic manipulation and an exemplar of the stereotypically perfect Aryan with blond hair, icy blue eyes, and a towering intellect.
Hanna is set up as two sides of the same coin. The ugliness of violent reactionary movements in Germany and elsewhere is embodied here by the villains, out to either capitalize on a military asset or who embody a mindless bloodlust. Conversely, the good fruit of eugenics and the re-emergence of the perfect Aryan is embodied so appetizingly in Hanna, our Nordic warrior. Hanna’s symbolic value in this way is made most plain when she enters Berlin, the heart of 20th century white nationalism, in all its modern decay. Wright takes care to include not just the dirtiness and dispirited quality of Berlin but also both non-white and white degenerates – genetic throwaways – against the perfection of Hanna.
We can only read Hanna in this setting as an alternate history that we wish had happened: in her skill and beauty, she is the unchosen ideal of an active pursuit of bettering white racial groups, of eugenics and its embedment in white nationalism. The real history, Wright quietly suggests, is that society has chosen to build itself with weak fabric of human degeneration instead.
This reactionary trend is slyly showing up in other mainstream movies, too. In his latest book Living in the End Times, Slavoj Zizek gives an incisive critique of I am Legend, the 2007 action film starring Will Smith. The film, Zizek says, is indicative of ideological shifts in how it has been remade over the decades. There are three films based on the 1954 novel I am Legend. The first film, The Last Man on Earth, tracks Neville, the main character who believes he is the last man alive. He finds, however, that a mutated species of vampire lives parallel to him, living at night and sleeping at day. He eventually discovers that these vampires fear him just as he fears them. He is a legend to the vampires.
In the second version, The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, the mutated humans blame science as the cause of their mutation and consequently feel that Neville, a man of science, must die.
And in the third version, I am Legend, Neville becomes a legend to the surviving humans having sacrificed himself to give the cure for the mutation to the surviving human colony.
What gets obliterated in this change, Zizek says, is the “mulicultural” experience rendered by the title’s original meaning, the realization that one’s own culture is no better than the “eccentric” cultures of others. Neville’s death in the third version, though, reasserts his roots in his lost community (the Church, the family). The final message, then, is not the exchange of positions (we are now legends the way vampires were legends for us), but our “irreducible attachment to our roots” and overt religious fundamentalism.
In a similar way, Hanna is a flirtatious return to the ideals of white nationalism and eugenics. It’s able to do this by filling the villainous positions by neo-Nazis, by which it seems to meet our needs of political correctness, while our sympathies amass around a brilliant and just Aryan warrior. As Tea Party numbers grow in the US and right-wing movements flourish across Europe, the image of Hanna leaving the forest and entering the world is a metaphor, then, with political and psychological relevance.