Archive for June, 2011

Movie Review: Hanna (2011), directed by Joe Wright

Be forewarned: There are spoilers in this movie review.

The movie Hanna, directed by Joe Wright, pits young
and culturally naive Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) against an
evil CIA agent (Marissa Weigler, played by Cate Blanchett),
who is attempting to eradicate all traces of Hanna’s existence.
Hanna is the last surviving “evidence” of a morally
questionable DNA experiment conducted by the government.
The experiment was designed with the intention of creating
an army of super soldiers—humans better equipped than their
non-meddled-with counterparts to decimate and destroy. As an
infant, Hanna is rescued by a rogue CIA agent. He raises her
in the wilds of Finland, teaching her not only how to survive
in the harsh conditions, but also how to fight and defend herself.
Most importantly, he instills in her the drive to destroy
agent Weigler before Weigler destroys her.

Although enjoyable, from a feminist perspective, the film has
some flaws.  For example, I found it interesting that Hanna’s
great adversary is a woman. I suppose the writers thought it
would be too problematic to pit Hanna against a man. It might
alienate the audience to have this young beauty destroy a
full-grown man, or alternately, it might not be perceived as
a fair fight.  Instead, Hanna must assassinate agent Weigler,
a CHILDLESS yet sexualized female, who, because of her
childless status, is portrayed as monstrous. Scary, yes, but
not in the way the writer intended.  In this case, the childless
woman completely lacks the maternal instinct that would make her
sympathetic to Hanna’s plight. Childlessness is thus equated
with monstrosity—Agent Weigler is an aberration, a freak of
nature, somehow less than woman.  This depiction is reinforced
with her cold, ruthless demeanor. Even in private she is deranged
enough to make her gums bleed intentionally when she cleans her
teeth. I can almost guarantee that childless men are never
depicted as monsters.

The ending of the film is also problematic. Whereas the film
could have ended with Hanna showing Agent Weigler mercy and
letting her live, instead, Hanna predictably kills Weigler
without mercy. Thus, the moral of this story is that free will
is nonexistent. Hanna has learned nothing during her foray into
civilization. She is the product of her genetic makeup and nothing
else. She is, in fact, the killing machine that the CIA feared.
Moreover, nothing can be chalked up to her personal strength as
a woman—she has been engineered and trained by men and has
done exactly as they asked.

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Book Review of On Borrowed Wings: A Novel

Chandra Prasad’s On Borrowed Wings exposes the ingrained
sexism of higher education via protagonist Adele Pietra,
who, in 1940, must disguise herself as her dead brother
to receive an education at Yale. The premise of the book
is interesting, as is the implied commentary that gendered
roles are not a genetic reality, but learned systems of
behavior. Class distinctions are also smartly refuted when
working-class Adele excels in her studies, and then “makes
good” by sharing her knowledge with disadvantaged families
of New Haven.

Although the social messages of On Borrowed Wings
reverberate, the downfall of the novel lies in the
one-dimensional portrayal of its secondary characters.
Exactly how many stories about academia involve an utterly
incompetent teacher or administrator who is one-upped by
an underling with a heart of gold? In this case Adele’s
work study is conducted under the “tutelage” of evil
Professor Spang from the Department of Social Demography
and Intelligence. Spang spouts banalities such as the following:
“It used to be that we could keep them at bay…but they’re
encroaching…Some have even managed to steal our women…Pity all
the mixed blood brats they’ve borne. And look what they’ve done
with our money” (124). Yes, we detest ignorant bigots in
positions of power. However, such hackneyed character
portrayals tend to incite more boredom than loathing.

Moreover, the first-person narration is often clumsy and
self-conscious, replete with overwritten lines such as,
“I walked a little faster, then broke into a run, a limber,
startled run, my feet barely skimming the sandy path” (38).

To sum up, read this novel for its interesting story
and superior social commentary, but be prepared to
overlook simplistic characterizations and awkward syntax.
Grade: B-

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Female Vigilantism

What exactly do I mean by female vigilantism? In Vigilante Women in Contemporary American
Fiction, I explain,

“Female vigilantism is most often a recuperative act that addresses systematic flaws
in the American system of justice. Contemporary heroines commit illegal, extralegal,
and at times, deadly, acts in their quest for justice, including the destruction of
property, banditry, robbery, armed combat, and/or even murder. However, because the
women who commit these acts do so for ethical reasons and to establish or protect
their own right to full personhood, their actions assume a significance that manifests
as an equitable view of individuality” (4).

As you can see, I do not uphold the traditional “masculine” version of vigilantism,
which defines the vigilante as “a private individual who legally or illegally punishes
an alleged lawbreaker, or participates in a group which metes out extralegal punishment
to an alleged lawbreaker (OED, second edition, revised, 2005). In fact, I find fictional
female vigilantism to be much more exciting, because the disruptive actions of vigilante
heroines are part of a much wider struggle for women’s rights. The authors of such novels
are participants in a collective movement designed to achieve a more equitable place for
women. The current era of female vigilantism thus involves individualized lawbreaking for
the sake of a common goal.

What makes this topic even better is the way that women in stories of vigilante justice
move beyond prescribed social roles to take action, sometimes for their own protection,
sometimes for the protection of others, sometimes for a moral ideal. As I note in my book,

“Such stories are shocking because the laying aside of typical “womanly” behavior
reveals the “assumedness” of femininity. Within such acts, the heroines of these
fictions demonstrate their ability to act in a “masculine” manner when necessary,
thus exploding gender myths of what constitutes “masculine” and “feminine” conduct” (6).

Rock on, sister soldiers.

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