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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Dredd’s Sketchy Homage to a Dead Future

Note: Somewhat spoilery, but nothing you wouldn’t guess at if you read the comic.

Watching Dredd was like stepping into a time machine that took me back to the 80’s and the gloriously apocalyptic, overpopulated, crime-ridden society that the media of the time all insisted we were headed toward.

There are all sorts of theories about why this future never happened, including an uptick in policing and the legalization of abortion (yes, really), and it’s funny because when that future melted away, it was almost anti-climactic, like the falling of the Berlin Wall. Here we’d spent all this time dreading a communist takeover/nuclear winter here in the US and then one day all that hocus pocus freakytime scary future stuff was just… over. You just woke up one day and everything you’d been told about the world and where you were headed wasn’t true anymore.

So Dredd was a throwback to some earlier time, when the ravenous hordes of humanity and blasted apocalypse wasteland felt like a tangible thing. It’s fun.

But, admittedly –  it’s dated.

Dredd has some good stuff going for it, on the face of things. There’s the setting – the massive city blocks, the endemic crime, the wild west style judges. And then there’s the inclusion of Lena Headey as our Big Bad guy, a delightfully terrifying bad guy and perfect choice here (so few good female bad guys). Her facial scar is actually disfiguring, which is a nice change from the old “We’ll give the hot chick a nick on her cheek and talk about how ugly she is now a la the baddie from Red Sonja. But even Red Sonja baddie wasn’t nearly as scary as Lena Headey baddie, who totally had me shaking in my boots, and made me think that maybe seeing Nyx on the big screen someday isn’t too much of a stretch.

Lena Headey will fucking EAT YOU.

That isn’t to say this weird movie is all progressive when it comes to female characters. It had the annoying habit of focusing intently on the sexuality of its female heroines (if this was a not-weird thing, then we’d also have lots of nods to the sexuality of our male characters, too, and that just wasn’t there), so our scary baddie lady is, naturally, a former prostitute. And when we get to our psychic female Judge-in-training, well… well, of course she is blond, finds a hand-wave reason not to wear a helmet (ahaaahaaa And it’s even hand-waved in a pithy bit of dialogue that had me rolling), and is endlessly threatened with rape (and from a dark skinned man, no less).

For one glorious moment at the end of the film, I actually thought this movie might have passed the Bechdel test. The Head Judge is a woman (and not white, even!), and actually has a conversation with our judge-in-training that I thought might have qualified… until I realized that what the Head Judge asks her about is… Dredd. And when the judge-in-training meets up with Lena Headey Badass, they talk about… Dredd.

Oh dear.

I actually went into this appreciating the diversity of the cast and the great character actors in the background (it was filmed in South Africa, I found out later). But then I realized that though all of the background characters were mixed, all of the Judges featured in the film were white except for the Head Judge. It was a little odd. But, OK, we’ll handwave that because at least we’ve got Head Judge. And Ok, Bechdel test ::sigh:::

 

EAT YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is a pretty violent little film, and reminded me a lot of Robocop. It had that over-the-top, comic bookey violence – and also about half a dozen slow-motion scenes that got really, really old the third or fourth time they employ it.  Dredd was a failure of a film, for me, but it was, at least, an entertaining failure. All of the choppy scenes, and the ridiculous violence and over-the-top rapey crap and silly, useless psychic plot and all the rest are basically what happens when you try and directly translate a comic book to a film. All of that stuff that looks really cool in comic panels over several issues starts to look monotonous and over-the-top on film, especially when you’re trying to make an 80’s comic into a 2012 film.

At the end of the film, I realized that though I enjoyed individual parts (handwaving all the rapey bits and lack of explosive fight scene with Lena Headey at the end and mostly-white judges and the endless slow-mo scenes), the actual thing that bothered me the most was that I never connected with any of the characters. We got very little backstory or emotion from anybody, and the judge-in-training was just… so distant, and her “power” so ridiculously useless in practice (she reads minds right up until her captive jumps her. I really hoped this would be shown as a deliberate move on her part in order to infiltrate Bad Lady’s hive of evil, but it turns out she was just taken hostage through her own incompetence).

What the lack of emotion means is that nobody really has an arc. We’re told that psychic-judge-in-training was pushed through judge training, but I never got she really wanted to be a judge, so her non-interest in the position at the end didn’t feel like a progression. Maybe it’s Dredd who shows progression when he decides to “pass” her even though she didn’t follow orders to the letter, but even then… I dunno. I knew so little about Dredd to begin with that I wasn’t so sure this was a huge leap for him. I didn’t feel like I got to know these people, so had very little interest in their outcome. Dredd is simply a throwback to an earlier time, and is very evocative of the comics. Life for women is generally pretty rapey and all men are emotionless, badass Snake Pliskins (this movie reminded me a lot of the issues and set pieces of another 80’s comic, V for Vendetta, actually).

Do I even need to caption this?

I give this one some points for Lena Headey (why did she have to be a former prostitute, though??) and the casting of the Head Judge, but basically it was just foisting an already problematic comic book into another format, without any thought as to how it could be reinterpreted or imagined.

Sometimes I think our obsession with being faithful to source material is actually really misguided. Reboots are the fan fiction of film – in order to stay relevant, it’s important that we encourage and allow our stories to be remixed and reimagined, or they all come out feeling a bit like Dredd – some kind of clumsy, cliche-ridden homage to a dead future.

 

 

Argo, and the Inconvenient Truth of Sahar

Spoilers: The hostages get away! The boat sinks! Etc.

When I saw the first trailer for Argo, I guffawed at the implausibility of the entire movie. CIA creates SF movie ruse to smuggle people out of Iran? Whatever, Hollywood. I figured it was just a good excuse for the media to fuel itself up for war with Iran (because we don’t have enough wars! And oh, those wacky Arab countries!).

It wasn’t until I looked this up on Wikipedia and saw that it was based on a true story that I realized I had to see the film. The sheer audacity of the idea knocked the breath out of me. How had I missed this story in all my reading about Iran? When I found out it’d only been declassified in the 90’s, I felt a little better about my ignorance, but only just. I still expected this to be a bit of a propaganda film, full of crazy evil terrorists and noble Americas. But SF film to smuggle out hostages! That was an epic plot, right there, and I had to see how it played out.

In fact, I didn’t realize just how much I expected evil-Arab-terrorists until I actually sat down in the theater and realized my whole body was taut and I was clasping my hands tightly, prepared to get through it with some nasty teeth gnashing over the pollution of historic events. There was a reason the Iranian revolution happened. Iranians had every right to be pissed off – we helped out a democratically elected representative and put a fucking tyrant in his place. If Iran had supported the overthrowing of our democratically elected leader, we’d be pretty pissed off at them, too.

But Argo wasn’t going to sugar coat why exactly these Americans were in this situation. The opening of the film set out explicitly why the Iranian people were so angry, and gave a good 50 year history of the events leading up to the storming of the embassy. I was incredibly shocked they did this. I wish I could say it didn’t shock me, but Hollywood can be so saccharin that I was prepared for the “oh those crazy Arab people” handwave.

Now, let’s not pretend this film doesn’t have Issues. Our primary characters are all men, and we focus heavily on the arcs for the men’s stories – Mendez’s wife doesn’t even get any lines- and Sahar, oh Sahar! Sahar about broke my heart. And though Iranians are presented as real people with real grievances, things fall apart there toward the end and we get these crazy foolish terrorist stand-ins waving guns and chasing planes (in actual fact, the embassy workers simply walked onto the plane, without all the Hollywood shenanigans at the end. But, yanno, Hollywood needs its suspense. The Arab-terrorists-chasing-planes-waving-guns thing was over the top even for them, tho).

 

Sahar makes a choice. For all the good it does her.

But this film knew what it was about, and had a good handle on the complexity of the situation. It doesn’t hurt that it was extraordinarily well-written – sometimes I forget Ben Affleck co-wrote an Academy-winning screenplay. The dialogue was punchy and witty, and again, the sheer craziness of this plan was so crazy that I could almost buy that it worked (I know, I know! It really *did* work! But holy crap, crazy). Affleck also brought a certain sadness and melancholy to this role that I’ve never seen him display. I usually can’t stand him because he comes across as some stupid jock, but I bought him in this role. Like others, I was also disappointed that a Hispanic actor didn’t play the part of an actual Hispanic historical figure. If we had a Hispanic guy play, say, Lincoln, can you imagine the shitstorm people would raise? Oh, whitewashing.

There was lots to appreciate in this film, though. I enjoyed how it handled the ineptitude of the CIA. “We’re going to deliver them some bicycles and have them bike out of Iran!” (this was a real plan presented at this meeting, in real life as well as this fictionalized version). It reminded me that our respective governments are full of overwhelmed, exhausted, and sometimes deeply stupid people who dig themselves and their people into deep holes without thinking about how the hell they’ll get them out. I know a few folks whose parents lived in Iran before the revolution, and mapping their experiences onto the ones presented in the film was interesting. I think it captured a lot of the fear and chaos at the time – and importantly, not just the fear and chaos for Americans, but for the Iranians themselves. Iranians who had to deal with the fallout. Foreigners could leave. But if you were Iranian, well… good luck.

Nothing illustrated this better than Sahar, the housekeeper for the Canadian ambassador, who was the only Iranian we got to know at all. When she keeps the secret of the ambassador’s houseguests despite very good reasons to give them up, I thought for sure she was going to get handed a passport and sent to Canada and safety. That would make sense, right? Exile sucks, but you’d help out people who helped you, right?

But Sahar does not get to Canada. Sahar ends the movie heading into Iraq. And if you know anything about history, you know that Iraq and Iran are about to enter a hellish bloody war – a war funded on both sides by the U.S. of A. I do not expect that Sahar’s life got infinitely better because she kept her secret and supported Americans. She just got thrown from one shitty situation created by American foreign policy into yet another shitty situation perpetuated by American foreign policy. I have a vivid memory of a relative of mine telling me nonchalantly that they were among the crews that carted weapons over to both Iraq and Iran during the war. They said it was treated as routine on both ends – both by the people who gave them the orders and by the Iranians and Iraqis who signed for the weapons on the other end.

Bikes! We’ll send them bikes! Your gov at work, kids.

Why does everyone hate Americans? Gee, I wonder. I’ve talked before about how the Iran/Iraq war was some of the inspiration for the conflict in God’s War, and it was that story of my relative’s nonchalant gunrunning that made me realize that wars could be perpetuated almost indefiniately by outsiders, and that this was actually a very common occurence.

So at the end of Argo, when everything else is neatly wrapped up, we still had this image of Sahar fleeing into Iraq, this knowledge of a loose thread, a life undone. And though I lamented this loose thread, I realized it was a purposeful one. Because while all of the hostages are eventually brought home, and yay rah-rah America, there’s Sahar still out there, displaced, walking into a war that will be perpetuated by the very people she chose to shelter.

At the end of the viewing I went to, the audience burst into a loud round of applause. Here was the heroic story American needed right now, and I felt it too – the idea that America was, in fact, still heroic and clever, even if it had to be heroic and clever because it was stupid and invasive in the first place. And it made me think about Carter, and how everybody hated him as a president because he didn’t go to war with Iran. They were angry and upset even though this was the guy who somehow – against all odds – managed to get everyone home safely (Iran-Contra was done under Reagan’s watch, not Carter’s). In fact, after getting that opening about the history of the U.S.’s involvement in Iranian politics, I remained even more astounded that anyone came home at all.

But those applause made me wonder how many people would actually remember Sahar. Did they remember the opening, and why these people were in trouble in the first place? Did they go out thinking, “Man, America should stop doing stupid things so it doesn’t have to create crazy mad movie plots to rescue people”? Like, isn’t it weird that the CIA first trained Osama bin Laden and so it’s maybe not so heroic when, later, they take him out, since they sort of helped make him in the first place?

Likely, they did not. Likely, most folks went home gleefully saying, “Argo fuck yourself!” and feeling good-hearted about all the heroic missions America’s accomplished that we don’t know about. And I won’t lie, that stuff was gleeful for me too. I loved every bit of the Hollywood scenes, of the make-believe, of the sheer audacity of the plan.

But the film itself, I felt, didn’t blindly encourage that rah-rah feeling. The theater of the make-believe film and the theater of the demonstrations and hostage situation are juxtaposed in one very effective scene, and it left me gnawing on a lot more questions than answers. It made me wonder if anything we do makes any sense at all, or if we’re just all caught in this endless cycle of reactionary craziness, acts of heroism – like the storming of the embassy (certainly viewed as heroic by some in Iran, cause hey, these people supported a guy who killed and tortured your family) and the rescue of the hostages – both reactionary, both nuts. There are no easy answers. One country’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. It just depends on what side of history you’re sitting on. And in fact, it’s often our own actions that determine who takes up arms and who doesn’t. All those left on the other side of events can do is react to the mess that’s left behind.

That night, lying in bed, it was still Sahar and her shattered life I thought about, though. Not terrorists or freedom fighters – not who was intrinsically “right” or “wrong,” but the people who had to get up and go on and live in the aftermath of events, of the mess left behind after countries rattle their bloody chessboards.

I hope I wasn’t the only one.

Looper: On What Makes a Hero

 

Note: Post contains ALL THE SPOILERS for this film.

The shift to gritty fantasy over the last couple decades has been a long time coming. I’d argue that those of us who grew up watching heroes like Snake Pliskin and Mad Max and Ellen Ripley but reading about smarmy do-good boys with birthmarks and wilting heroines were inspired to spice up the old tropes with a bit of grimdark ourselves mainly because we’d watched too many 80’s movies and wanted our novels to look more like our films.

But for me, it’s also much more than that. See, I started to figure out that the myth of the hero I’d been fed wasn’t actually as do-good nice guy as I always thought it was. Old-school heroes are the self-sacrificing types, the ones unafraid to lay down their lives for a better world. But I started to notice that we saw fewer and fewer of those. Instead, what we saw was the rise of the “nice guy” hero – the guy who, on the face of it, does something heroic, but he does it to win something (and yes, it’s generally always a guy) – to get the girl, or achieve fame among his peers, or win a lot of money, or a great job. And, often, to simply “be a hero.” Guys were expected to do these heroic things not so much because they were right and just and best for the world, but because people would see them as heroic. It was for the recognition and fame, not because it was intrinsically right.

I would argue that there’s a huge difference between doing something because it’s right and doing something because it’s what people expect of you. Heroic people do things because they’re right, not because somebody is watching. Not because it’s what their parents or peers or anybody else would expect.

I tend to identify with non-heroic people pretty strongly. My moral compass is absolutely determined by who’s watching, and I’ll be the first to admit that. Maybe it’s why I’m so obsessed with the idea of heroes, and how to be heroic, and what it means to do the right thing even when you’d rather be a selfish jerk. It’s something I constantly battle with. I was raised to be an absolutely selfish person, and though that has safeguarded me somewhat in a world that values selfishness, in order to have relationships with actual humans I had to take a hard look at how much harm my selfishness was doing to the world in relation to the actual benefit it was supposedly giving me.

Looper is a film about a selfish jerk whose greatest opponent is, literally, himself. There are all sorts of smart things about this movie, and moderately fresh things, like setting a film about time travel in our future instead of our present. The opening hook of the film – 30 years from the movie’s present day (about 30 years from our present) time travel is invented, and since bodies are so difficult to dispose of in the future of our future, people are sent back to the past to be killed by young men called Loopers (yes, all men. ::sigh::). They’re neatly murdered with blunderbusses, which we’re told early on have a killing range of only about 15 yards. This becomes important later.

In fact, pretty much every detail you’re given up front becomes important later. There’s not a wasted beat. The writer in me was jumping up and down the whole time in glee at the experience of watching a smartly-written film

The twist here is that because what the Loopers do is kill people, which is a crime, at some point in the future they’re also going to be sent back and killed. As a sort of grim reward, they’re assigned to be killed by themselves, at which point they receive a big pay day and retire at 25 with a bunch of money – knowing they only have about 30 more years to live, and knowing exactly when and how they’ll die… at their own hand. This is called “closing your loop.”

People always want to talk about the Time Travel when they talk about Looper, but as somebody who writes hand-wavey fiction myself, I’ll tell you now that the logistics of that didn’t interest me all that much. Which is why I appreciated the throw away, “I’m not going to sit here and explain time travel to you” line that Bruce Willis delivers in the film (I laughed out loud at this).

Instead, what I’m really interested in here is the deconstruction/construction of the Hero that Looper plays with.

When we meet our Young Hero, he’s initially faced with a very tricky dilemma. One of his Looper friends has been tasked with killing his future self, but instead of killing him, he let him go. Our Young Hero initially agrees to hide him, and stows his friend away in his floor safe with the stash of silver bars he’s received from his killing work.

But when his boss confronts our Young Hero and asks him to give up his friend in return for keeping whatever’s in his safe… our Young Hero gives up his friend.

The friend isn’t killed, but is horribly, horribly maimed and mutilated in a very inventive and awesome way.

It’s this giving up of his buddy that’s really important here, because it shows the priorities of this particular Hero – life is about looking out for yourself, about money and power. There’s a scene, later, when he offers his favorite prostitute a bunch of money, and she steadfastly refuses it – “Money comes with strings,” she tells him, “and expectations.” She knows he’s not being altruistic. She knows he’s out for something, to buy something, to own something, and she refuses to be owned (though I was annoyed about having a prostitute in the movie, she was a real, clever person here, and I appreciated that – her eyeing the clock was also a nice touch).

We get two versions of the Hero finally confronting his older self – the one where his future self gets away, and the one where his young self kills his old self (because of course you can’t have the first future without the second). In the version where the Young Hero does kill the Old Hero we get the Life Montage, where we see our Hero being his anti-Hero self, acting as a hired gun in China, killing folks, doing drugs, and just generally fucking his life away as his 30 year clock ticks down.

Until he meets a Very Special Lady, of course.

Special Lady Saves him, and they live happily for two whole years while she cleans up his sorry ass. I rolled my eyes at this cliché. I mean, why would she want to be with this guy? She doesn’t even have any speaking lines in the whole movie! And then, of course, she dies horribly, murdered by the people who’ve come to scuttle off the Old Hero back to the Young Hero to get killed.

What the hell, women in refrigerators? I sat on my hands a bit during this one, annoyed but impressed enough with the writing thus far in the film to keep going. Surely this was going somewhere?

It was.

One of my favorite Jeff VanderMeer books is Veniss Underground. What I loved about this book is that there’s this Hero who chooses to go on this epic horrific crazy quest to save the woman he loves – knowing that she does not love him, and he will not “get” her. He knows there is no reward for him at the end. He will not win her love and affection. He just does it because he loves her, and because he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t.

Our Old Hero, upon nearly escaping from his death sentence and being forced to go back in time and get shot by Young Hero, decides he will Save his Love from her horrible death by going back in time and destroying the guy who runs the organization that came after him and killed her. So he hops in the time machine anyway, and is confronted with Young Hero.

Young Hero, this time, fumbles, and Old Hero gets away to wreck revenge on his enemies and Save His Lady.

This is the yawn-worthy stuff, here. You know the tired old saw – I’m doing this to revenge my wife and children! This dead lady in the refrigerator will be avenged, damn you! It’s really all about her!

I’ve always been annoyed with the dead women in the refrigerator thing because it was so effing lazy. It’s like people were only putting women into the story to support the men’s stories, and they always had to die horribly. What I didn’t realize, until this movie laid it out explicitly, is the other big reason this is a problematic thing to use to drive your hero….

… avenging dead women in refrigerators isn’t actually heroic.

Old Hero confronts Young Hero to explain that he must kill the head of this organization now, while the man or woman is still a child, in order to prevent his True Love from dying.

Young Hero demands to see the photo of the woman. “You can save her right now,” Young Hero says. “Just show me her picture and when I see her in the future I’ll head the other direction.”

The look Old Hero Bruce Willis delivers here to Young Hero is the reason he’s Bruce Willis. It’s this half-outraged, half-hurt look, and he cups the image of the woman in his hands, instinctively shielding her image from his younger self. “This woman saves you,” he said. “You don’t deserve it. But she’s the one bright, great thing in your life. She saves you.”

“And you can save her,” Young Hero says. “Just show me her picture.”

Dear reader, let me tell you:

He doesn’t show his younger self the photo.

Western civilization in particular has a long history of viewing women and children as men’s property. When you wanted to dishonor a man, you assaulted his property. You murdered and/or abused and/or enslaved his wife and children. And that’s till true today to a large extent. Men are still judged by the beauty and fidelity of their wives, and if they can’t “keep them safe” they’re seen as somehow lesser men. The classic revenge narrative that has led to the women in refrigerators trope is positioned as a heroic narrative, as a man redeeming the memory of his dead family.

But this moment, this moment right here when Old Hero selfishly withholds the photo of his dead wife, exposes that lie for what it is. The revenge narrative is not about women and dead children at all. It’s about a man redeeming his honor and sense of self-worth. This is why the old revenge narrative isn’t heroic in the least. It has nothing to do with helping others or saving the world. The revenge narrative is a story of a man’s redemption built on the bodies of women and children.

By ensuring his wife’s safety by simply handing over her photo instead of killing the people who killed her, Old Hero is also neatly erasing her from his life. It means she will never meet him, and save him, and love him. He must give up her love in order to save her.

It’s a heroic thing, an actual heroic thing, to give up someone you love… but as we’ve seen when he gave up his friend for a few bars of silver, this is not a heroic guy.

So instead of being a real, selfless hero, Old Hero keeps the photo to himself and runs off to hunt down the three 5-year-old kids who share the birthday and birthplace of the person who destroyed his life. He chooses to kill more people to solve a killing (and killing children, of all people!).

Killing to end more killing never ends well.

Young Hero runs after him in an attempt to kill him and wrest back control of his life, and in the course of events we encounter a woman living at the edge of a cornfield, trying to protect her 5-year-old son from the evils of the world with a shotgun and some tough talk.

 

It’s obvious from the get-go that her son is the person that Old Hero is looking for.

I was initially less than impressed with our shotgun wielding heroine, (who, it turns out, isn’t as bloodthirsty as we first thought) until I actually started writing this post and re-evaluated her own journey. We find out that she was a party girl, doing drugs and hanging out with her friends in the city and living, you know, the carefree irresponsible life that one leads in one’s 20’s. When she got pregnant, she dumped off her kid with her sister and went back to partying.

When her sister died, she let go of her partying ways and mustered up the gumption to care for her son – just the two of them, all alone in a big house in a cornfield. And, well, her son isn’t exactly the easiest 5-year-old to care for, either. It involved a lot of self-sacrifice.

What I realized is that what she decided to do – give up her carefree life to care for someone else (who, as we learn, is actually also an incredibly dangerous person)– was, in fact, rather heroic. In my perfect Kameron-land, I’d have given her a daughter instead of a son, which would have fixed some of the borderline clichéd roles given to women throughout, but let’s take it for what it is: She decides to care for someone else, after a long adolescence. And though that’s often seen as a cliché in the realm of female characters, I can see the parallels here that the writer may have been driving for.

So B- for effort.

The Young Hero ends up connecting with the woman and her son, and begins to have a more vested interest in keeping them alive than just, “My old self wants them dead.” He admits to the boy that his own mother, like the boy’s, was a selfish drug addict. But unlike this boy’s mom, his own sold him off to some street gangs, starting him onto this bloody life path. He was abandoned by selfish people, and has become a selfish person.

There are some fights, and an amazingly beautiful reveal about why the kid ends up being an organized crime leader in the future (and the image of the little kid crouching in the cornfield, covered in blood and looking miserable, is just… wonderful), and eventually we come to our showdown between Old Hero and Young Hero, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is actually a war between Selfish Anti-Hero/Adolescent and Selfless Heroic Adult.

Old Hero has his killing shot to destroy the kid. He takes it – but Heroic mom steps in front of the bullet, and saves her son.

Young Hero knows, then. This is the Loop. This is how it goes.

Heroic mom takes the bullet. Kid gets away. Angry, abandoned kid becomes crime lord. Old Hero’s wife still dies. Mom dies. Little kids Old Hero has *already* killed still die. And then… all the Loopers die, because the kid grows up to be a crime lord who hates Loopers. And all the other people this little kid kills in the future because he’s angry and abandoned also die.

It’s one big loop. One circle of death and revenge and destruction that serves no one, and destroys everyone.

But Young Hero only has his blunderbuss, which is no good at hitting anything more than 15 yards away, remember? And Old Hero is more than 15 yards away.

But there is only one way to close the loop.

The ending to this film was so perfectly perfect that I wanted to cheer at the end. And I realized, afterward, that it was because of this:

Sometimes the “heroes” in the story aren’t actually the “good” guys. Those revenge stories we hold up as being heroic? Those blustering, murdering heroes who destroy the bad guys who’ve murdered their wives and children?

They aren’t heroes. They’re meeting violence with violence.

They aren’t solving the problem.

They are the problem.

When Young Hero closes the loop by killing himself, he acknowledges the lie of those revenge stories. He’s no longer the same Young Hero who becomes Old Hero – the guy who gave up his friend to be tortured and mutilated in return for a few bars of silver. Instead, he’s the guy who realizes that to save everything, he has to sacrifice himself. He has to give something up, cut something away.

He has to grow up.

So, instead of Heroic mom taking the bullet, Young Hero takes the bullet, thus ending all the death and misery and destruction wrought by his own Future self.

The woman he loved in the future? Saved. The mom? Didn’t have to sacrifice herself. The kid? Saved from a life of crime (presumably). The loopers? Well, we’ll see. And the future? Well, who knows?

All of the loopers eventually close their loop. This one just did it in the way most beneficial to everyone. And he got nothing for it. No monuments. No love. No glory.

Now, astute folks will point out that we’ve saved the lives of many by killing one, and isn’t that effed up, because hey, we shouldn’t be killing people at all. And I’d say, yeah, sure, but how many American heroes do we see trot off to their deaths without “winning” something first or being promised something? How many sacrifice their lives without an audience to witness it? And how many sacrifice their lives without taking anyone else with them in that death?

In the U.S. these days, we have a wildly extended adolescence. It wasn’t until I started spending time with my nephew that I realized just how incredibly selfish we all are from the get-go. Compassion and cooperation, sharing and selflessness are things that must be taught, and these days, they are things we hang onto for an incredibly long time. We celebrate them. We celebrate the self, and getting everything we want at the expense of others. We crush people. Not our enemies, not bad guys, but just… people. And we do it for no better reason than to do otherwise is seen as weak.

Looper, for me, was an old-school hero’s journey about how you grow up (or don’t). You can choose to live like a selfish bastard your whole life, and watch the world burn around you (and take it, burning, with you to the grave), or you can make smarter, less selfish choices, and save a whole lot of people in the process. No, that choice is certainly not always killing yourself for goodness sake (it’s a METAPHOR, people), but when you’re faced with perpetuating violence and selfishness or making the smarter, more diplomatic choice… well.

The selfless, diplomatic choice is far more often the heroic choice.

Going down, guns blazing at your foes, is more often the selfish one.

 

God Bless America: Living our Dystopia

No, that post title is not a directive, that’s the name of a movie I finally ponied up to watch my last night at Wellspring before I passed out.

I’d been putting off this movie for a good long while, primarily because I heard about it not long after some nut job shot up a movie theater IRL, and there’s nothing like IRL violence to put you off lazily violent movies (when I lived in South Africa, I started walking out of movies with gratuitous violence. Unless violence has a good purpose or is trying to make a non-lazy point, I have a very low tolerance for it these days). The idea of watching a movie that could very well be seen to promote shooting people as a way to cure our vapid, self-indulgent culture of its problems turned my stomach.

But I am, if nothing else, a big proponent of protecting our ability to tell stories that we need to tell in the way they need to be told. It’s not as if this film is the first to show folks upset with the current system shooting their way to infamy.

And taking a look at the news these days, I have to say that I think this was the only way to tell this story.

This is, then, a deeply problematic movie, in which our divorced, disaffected, cubicle-living, protagonist finds himself picking up a gun and a manic pixie dream girl and setting off across the country to murder all those vapid reality TV stars and people who text their friends in movies, and people who cut you off on the freeway and – yes, basically, everyone who acts like an entitled asshole in this weirdly adolescent culture we’ve made for ourselves in America.

What precipitates this killing spree is a very strange scene at his workplace in which he’s canned for looking up the personal address of the company secretary and sending flowers to her home. I say it’s strange because I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to feel about it. On the one hand, sure, the woman seems friendly toward him, but, uh, dude, she’s a  secretary – she has to be nice to everyone, and I’m sorry, but any guy who looks up your personal address in your personnel file and sends you something without you expressly asking is, indeed, a little creepy.  My assumption here is that it’s the “zero tolerance policy” response that I’m supposed to think is really ridiculous. He gets canned for looking up the secretary’s personal information. Of course, if I was a guy watching this, I might find what he did rather innocuous and not worth firing somebody for and would rail against the PC’ing of the workplace, but as a woman, well… dude. Unless I give you my address, sending something there is kinda… creepy.

So, that was weird.

The rest of the film follows our protagonist on his journey to murder a teen reality TV star and her vapid parents and ends up as a takeover of the American Idol stage. This is about when he hooks up with manic pixie dream girl, who was very nearly her own person and not a pixie, but then wasn’t, which made me sigh into my cornflakes because her writing was so punchy and the actress was so great. Folks, when you create secondary characters for your protagonists, you need to spend at least as much time figuring out them and their arc and their story as you do your protagonist, or they’ll just come off as lackluster shadowy appendages of said protagonist. And this is, of course, much more prevalent with the manic pixie dream girl, who consistently manages to have no real life, goals, or motivations outside of whatever it is she is waking up the white male protagonist to do. It’s woman-as-muse-as-thing, and it annoys.

Still: la-la-la-la ignoring the pixie for a minute, and the relentlessly, darkly brutal/comic subject matter, this film certainly did well at one thing – holding up a mirror to our own Harrison Burgeron society. You wonder why we don’t write SF stories like this one anymore? Because we already live this dystopia. We already live in the world of vapid reality TV stars and people shooting up theaters and rich kids trying desperately to pretend they’re interesting and middle aged folks with no purpose or motivation beyond making it to the cubicle every morning. It’s a darkly comic movie because it’s a darkly comic time to live in, and I couldn’t help but write in “bread and circuses” especially there at the end where we get the massive TV shooting that reminded me a ton of old Harrison from the movie version; tho of course Harrison was naïve enough to believe that you’d listen to him simply because he spoke to you. Our protagonist today knows we’re going to tune him out unless he’s got a gun or a bomb strapped to him. Our attention spans are even shorter than that in most dystopias.

I guess the depressing part about this movie is that it really wasn’t fiction for me. It felt a lot more like a perfect picture of a snapshot in time; the arrogant, egotistical, uneducated, asshole-validating culture that is American pop culture at the turn of the 21st century.

Twenty years ago, this would have been a science fiction movie. Now it was like watching a documentary.

Sad face.

“You’re No Different Than That Thing in the Cellar”: Thoughts on “The Woman”

Note: this is a film that is about violence against women. Triggers ahoy.

Long-time readers know that I get really pissed off with creative work that employs random violence against women as some kind of lazy shorthand. Creators do this for all types of reasons. You don’t have to work too hard at characterizing your bad guy if you just have him randomly rape somebody. We all get our ire up and go, “Yep, that’s the bad guy!” without caring too much who he raped or why. In fact, we generally hear very little about the victim of the assault. The victims are just there as plot devices. Sadly, fictions tend to ignore the women who are assaulted. We’re just there to get beat up so that the bad guy can look bad and the good guy can look good by “avenging” us. What we think about it or do about isn’t considered terribly important. We’re just fodder for some guy’s story.

Do I ever think random, shorthand violence against female characters is justified?

No.

Do I think that there’s an instance where depicting brutality against women is appropriate to the story being told?

Yes. And here’s when that is:

When the story is actually about the institutionalized violence in our society directed at women. When it’s a story about exploring why and when that happens, and what it means, and how it twists both men and women, and who we are as a society because we tolerate (and even encourage) it. When a story actually sits down and actively tries to tell you something without being lazy about it.

I recently sat down to watch the film The Woman. I’d read a lot of mixed reviews about it. Just the premise terrified the crap out of me. It’s about a wild, feral woman who’s captured by an apparently unassuming family man and his creepily accommodating family, who attempt to “civilize” her.

I flailed and freaked out about this for awhile, but after reading a bunch of different responses, I realized I needed to see it for myself. Minor spoiler right here: if I hadn’t read in the reviews that the woman eventually gets free and has her revenge, I would not have been able to watch this film. It’s… really creepy.

But what’s it *about* you ask?

It’s about just what it says it is, and so, so much more.  Some spoilers ahead:

Unfortunately, you totally know this guy.

When you hear the whole “feral woman captured and family attempts to tame her” thing, you think torture porn, right? I know I did. I expected we’d get some young, blond passive thing absolutely terrified of her captivity that would kow-tow to her dominant male masters.

This is not that movie.

This is like somebody decided to “tame” some feral Conan. Among the first things she does it bite off the guy’s finger. And that’s just the beginning.

Our feral woman is not helpless. She’s not there to romanticize victimhood. She’s Conan caught in a bad situation with a bunch of crazy people.

And that’s what really stands out in this movie – not the craziness of the feral woman, but the absurdly fucked-up family who holds her. She seems almost normal and sympathetic by comparison as she eats fingers and rips out people’s hearts.

This is the story of a normal-seeming family of four – the hot shot lawyer dad, the plastered-on smile stay-at-home mom, the sports-playing son and emo daughter. They live in a beautiful house in the country. They are boringly affluent. They attend parties like normal people.

But they have a dark secret, of course.

They’ve got a wild woman in their cellar.

And a lot more shit that’s less literal.

Because this is, in fact, a house of beaten, repressed, and abused women. The way you begin to pick up on just how terrified they are provides much of the movie’s horror. There are two particular scenes early on – one where the father sits with his daughter on her bed, and puts his arm around her. He talks blithely of normal subjects, such as school ending and college beginning, but when he puts his arm around her, the daughter’s whole body goes rigid. She does not look at him. And in the hallway outside, you see the slow, terrified movement of her mother approaching the door – one step at a time, easing closer and closer, as if seeking to catch or dissuade her husband from whatever vile thing she’s afraid he’s going to do.

In the next scene, his wife asks, quietly, if it’s really the right thing to do, keeping a woman in the cellar. Up until this point, there has been no explicit violence against the women in this household. Just that cold, creepy, terrified feeling that they all walk around with. The man’s brushing his teeth. He comes into the room, looks at her, and slaps her gently. It’s not a violent slap. It’s as if he were swatting a fly, as if he knows that all he needs to do to remind her of her place is apply this simple, degrading move. He does not actually have to hurt her. Just remind her that he can. “I’m going to sleep now, babe,” he says,a and sighs contentedly and slips beneath the covers while his wife stands numb in the middle of the bedroom.

Not somebody you want to meet in a dark alley.

The family’s strange compliance with the husband’s increasingly bizarre requests regarding the wild woman start to make a lot more sense, despite the wild absurdity of the whole situation. In fact, it’s clear from the outset that the directors know this is a very absurd setup in the silly way they introduce the woman to the man in the first place, with some hyped up sexytime music. It looks ludicrous. Unbelievable.

But this isn’t a movie that’s literally about the woman in the cellar. It’s about all those things we don’t talk about. All those other women in the cellar, the ones we pass everyday at work, or at the grocery store. They’re the girls and women we see in school, or on the bus.

This was an epic horror movie for me because I understood some of what the women in this house were feeling.  Because, like many women, I know what it feels like to be stuck in a relationship that you feel just isn’t right, but you have no idea how the fuck to get out of it. You don’t have the tools or skills or perspective to escape, and everyone around you thinks your life is perfect, and normal, and you keep up the game because you don’t want to admit you made a mistake, or that you’re weak, or that you need help.

As the violence against the woman downstairs escalates, and the perfect façade this family shows to the world begins to crumble, I found myself nearly jumping up and down anticipating the escape of the woman in the cellar. You’re ready for her to get loose – and that angry, fucked-up, fuck-you part of you that wants to crush the fuck out of assholes’ skulls and tear out their hearts – wants to be, just for that one glorious moment, the woman who gets out the cellar and opens unholy fucking terror.

Toward the end of the film, things go off the rails a  bit, with some – if you can believe it – *really* over the top and what-the-fuck moments. But the gut punch also came there at the end, when the man grabs his daughter by throat and picks her up and spits at her that she’s just an animal, that she’s “no different than that thing in the cellar.”

And this gets to the root of the fear, right here. When you walk around in the world as a woman, you get this creepy feeling oftentimes that men really do just think of you as a thing, an object, as meat. You’re just there to fuck, or to hang out with so he can get status from other guys. You see these images of how women who are valued are supposed to look, and you see that you don’t look that way, and you wonder if that means you have no value. You get the feeling that you could be a Pulitzer Prize winning astronaut billionaire who cured cancer, and you’d still have a bunch of guys trolling your comments saying, fuck you, I’ll just rape you, and what will you be then, bitch? Because sexual violence is how you control women, how you put them in their place, how you maintain your own dominance.

For the guy in this film to actually say it out loud, to give voice to that terrible fear that so many of us have, was actually kind of cathartic for me.

“You’re no different than that thing in the cellar.”

Indeed.

Of course, immediately after this, the thing in the cellar rips out his heart and cuts his son in half.

So really, yes, that’s true. We can indeed be just like that thing in the cellar.

But I don’t think that’s the thing he was hoping was in the cellar. It was the thing he was hoping to create that he wanted to liken us all to.

There’s a lot of torture porn out there, from the Saw movies to Cabin in the Woods, but none of those movies actually explore what torture porn really is, or what it does to people. It doesn’t examine the ramifications, or what it may be saying about how we view people. For me, this film was a critique of those shitty, glossy sexualizations of violence. There is nothing sexy about violence here, though the guys in the film sure do think there is. The gross confusion between sex and violence here is shown for what it is – it’s a ludicrous tool for dominating another person (it does get lazy, I felt, at the end with what it does to a secondary character – I think it fell into the very genre it was critiquing with that particular twist).

But if you can stomach this movie – if you’re prepared for it – and if the bizarre shark-jumping weirdness of some of the twists at the end doesn’t ruin it completely for you – this is a terrifying, and terrifyingly weird exploration of everyday violence, sexism, abuse, and power.

Recommended, with resevations.

 

When did journalism…

When did journalism go from this:

“This thing happened. Here are the factual details of what happened as verified by our in-house reporter. Here is a quote from someone supporting this fact. Here is a quote from someone who explains how this fact will affect your immediate situation. Here are the facts again. Here’s where you can go to get more facts.”

To this?

“So, wow, someone said something! Here are tweets from random people agreeing with them. Here are tweets random people disagreeing with them. I think that both sides have some great points! One might be wrong, but one might be right! Here is MY opinion! What’s your opinion?”

Why your gun-toting chick isn’t feminist, redux: Thoughts on The Cabin in the Woods

Note: Spoilers ahoy

When I walked in to watch The Cabin in the Woods, I expected a total subversion of the genre. I was giddy at the idea of taking all the old horror movie tropes and fucking with them. I looked forward to the blonde who wasn’t stupid, the virgin who totally had a bunch of sex, the jock who spent the whole time doing his homework, the stoner who gave up drugs, and the “Other” who got romantically entangled with the blond. I expected everybody to live, to fight back, to overcome the sad sorry story of the maimed and bloodied teens in the woods. I expected moments of incredible heroism.

That was not the movie I saw.

No, the movie I saw wasn’t really a subversion at all, but, in fact, a reinforcement of every cliched horror movie you’ve ever seen. We were filling our primordial need for blood and gore and fear of sex as a sacrifice to the elder gods. Funny, right? Ha ha. But it’s a one-note funny. It’s a one-note idea. It’s lazy. And it’s not enough to make a whole movie out of.

You can’t build a subversive movie by simply reinforcing the status quo.

I’ve had a lot of issues with Whedon in this area since Dollhouse. It’s like because he had one show that was more feminist than other shows at the time back in the 90’s that somehow everything he does must be holy and Good for Women and even if he’s showing us women who are maimed, tortured, beaten, and humiliated for being women that that’s OK because a feminist is doing it.

Um.

No.

You know what the thing is with writing feminist stuff? You need to keep exploring what exactly it is, what it means, and push that envelope further every time. Instead, what I’ve seen is a regression in how women are portrayed and treated in Whedon’s work, and it’s creepy.

I knew I was in trouble during the very opening scene of the movie, when the two guys BEGIN THE MOVIE by insulting women generally. Ha ha, right? Women and their funny women’s issues! You funny womens! The movie’s first line! I want to believe this is a wink-wink nudge-nudge thing like, “Ha, those crazy old white guys and their old white guy misogyny!” But throwing old white guy misogyny on the screen in scene after scene without challenging it or interrogating it or presenting an alternative to it is just… misogyny. Plain old misogyny.

And I realized then that if I was already starting to try and “explain away” Whedon’s misogyny in the opening fucking scene I was doomed. Because it meant that I was going to be trying hard to erase a LOT more misogyny later on. La-la-la-la not listening!

But I couldn’t just put my fingers in my ears and pretend somebody else wrote it. I knew who wrote it, and it broke my heart.

And that was just the beginning.

Throughout the whole movie, the guys are the puppeteers. The guys still get most of the lines. They’re in control. Throwing in Sigourney Weaver at the end for the final fight doesn’t magically “fix” the fact that I just watched a very uncomfortable movie about how men maim and humiliate women in service to their dark, primordial desires/underlord. The scene with all the guys oogling over whether or not the blond’s shirt was going to come off was just… unnecessary. As was much of this movie.

The real tragedy here is that, of course, Whedon is a great dialog writer. He does great characters. It’s funny, and often fun. There are cool moments. But as I watched this movie and laughed along trying to enjoy myself despite the squicky bits, I became more and more uncomfortable with it.

I kept waiting for the big reveal. For the huge subversion. But it never came. In the end, during the one scene where our virgin sacrifice finally has the opportunity to make a choice – she doesn’t make it. A guy takes away her choice. And when she finally has the chance to save herself, a guy saves her. And the blond is still made stupid and dies first, and horribly and in a sexualized way. Just as in the horror movies it pokes fun at, the woman is the only one to die while involved in sex. Are we subverting tropes here, or reinforcing them? What does it matter the REASON that these things happened? If you’re infantilizing a woman “for laughs” or because you seriously believe she’s a baby, you’re still infantilizing her. End of story.

Just as with Dollhouse, I’m not going to slog through episode after episode of a woman being tortured, raped, and infantilized just so you can give her a gun later and say “Hey, see, she’s empowered now! It’s all OK! Guns = feminism, right?” No. It’s not OK. It’s lazy fucking storytelling. You can fucking do better. There are plenty of politicians who would be happy to give women guns so long as they remained barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. After all, they’d need to have guns to protect themselves from rapists when their men were at war, right?

Even the cast outside of the woods was mostly guys. We get one woman. One. Who is eaten like everyone else, of course, without doing anything terribly useful. In fact, much of the time, the guys are beating up on her like everything she’s ever done is wrong. She becomes their punching bag – and she takes it.

I have real problems with pretend-feminism movies. I get angry with lazy storytellers who hand women guns but then ensure that guys are making all of their decisions for them, or hand women guns but then dress them in leather pants and spend half the movie saying sexually explicit things about them, which, of course, the women just laugh or shrug off the way you have to do in real life because they are so polite and women must be pleasant and polite  (because in real life YOU DO NOT HAVE A GUN and superpowers that give you the ability to use it without consequence).

I’ve already heard that The Avengers suffers from some of these same issues, and I admit I expect to wince through those parts. What angers me is when people say, “Yes, but there are so many other GOOD things about X movie!” Yes, there are, but that sounds far too much like the old, “Lie back and think of England” bullshit way that we’ve been encouraged to endure every uncomfortable, humiliating thing heaped on us.

Fuck that.  I am tired of ignoring all the crap, lazy writing people do just because they can also write some funny jokes.

If you are going to subvert tropes, you had better be thinking damn hard about which ones you AREN’T subverting – and thus the ones you’ve also chosen to reinforce. Every choice we make as creators counts, and to see the lazy misogyny that crept into this steaming heap of a movie that was so effing close to being great was incredibly disappointing.

 

 

Power

Look at all the women in this photo! It's... um, a wedding scene. But one of them besides female protagonist talks! But, well... it turns out she's a guy. Women are still just scenery on Mars.

I’ve been thinking a lot about women and power.

J. and I went to see John Carter last week, but this isn’t really a rant about John Carter, which has its own issues. What particularly struck me was when J. pointed out that he was surprised to see so many women background characters in the army in the film, and wasn’t that progressive?

This… in a film filled with male characters and exactly one female (humanoid) character (yes, there’s Sola, the green alien, but her story arc gets badly truncated. I could have watched a whole movie featuring Sola). Since there was just one woman, she ended up being several women – scientist and soldier both – but still a chick in skimpy clothes that is simply married off because, you know, that’s what people do to unite kingdoms on every planet. Women just get forced into marrying guys they don’t want to marry.

And I think this gets back to something I discussed earlier, because John Carter is just the latest glaring example of this problem I see in a lot of current media. It’s this idea that if we just give a woman a sword, sexism has been solved. As if the ability to shoot guns alone (though a very useful skill) somehow erases stuff like our shoddy record on reproductive health, the wage gap, sexual harassment, the devaluing of stuff considered “women’s work” and the like.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love me some slash-and-hack. But what intrigues me more is how the world would be different if women really did have physical and economic power that was both valued and respected by society at large. Giving a hot spunky chick a sword and saying she’s a magical scientist but still producing a work that doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test doesn’t do that. It’s giving people the symbols of power but not the actual power.

Then I started to wonder what, exactly, does power look like? Does the ability to work behind the scenes and scheme for a throne for your husband/son/male lover count as power? Certainly, you’re influential, but you’re influencial in putting other people into power, not yourself. At any point, that person can decide to no longer support you, and what then? Rome was a great example of this. Here were all these powerful, aristocratic women, but at the end of the day, if they pissed off Cesar, what Cesar wanted, Cesar got. Supporting other peoples’ rise to power always struck me as a path to power that was fraught with potential problems.  The women of Rome were strong characters, and wielded power over certain aspects of their lives, but at the end of the day, they were still subject to Cesar (or their husbands, because legally, women were property), and to the peculiar limitations their society placed on them and their ambitions.

What would the world really look like if physical and economic power rested equally between the sexes? Or with women alone? And how would men operate in that world? I want to know more than just what the armies look like. What are the economics like? The assumptions? The limitations and restrictions based on sex? What does gender look like? Is there only one? Or two? A multiplicity? What about reproduction? Family life? There are an infinite number of things we take for granted in our day to day lives that not only are not at all inherently biological but are only considered “normal” because we’ve done them for fewer than 50 years. Five hundred years ago, things looked a lot different. And I can guarantee you that 5,000 years from now, on another planet, they’re going to look MUCH different.

So why can’t we explore that more in our fiction? Why take the lazy route out?

Fabulous CGI and sunships are cool, but if your Martian guy is sitting around reading the paper in the living room while his wife is making breakfast, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Hanna: Or, I Don’t Hate Everything, You Know

Every once in a great while, somebody makes a movie just for me.

I’d grown so accustomed to seeing bad movies that I forgot they actually made good ones. That’s why Hanna came as such a surprise. Hanna is the story of a girl who’s grown up in the woods in the far north, raised only by her hermit of a father who’s both more and less than he appears.

She has been trained the entirety of her 15 or 16 years of life in how to be an assassin.

Yes, an assassin.

Why? Well, she’s being trained to kill the woman who killed her mother.

Her father has his own secrets, of course, and has been planning this particular coup for some time. Hanna is sheltered from the world but not from the realities of life and death. She hunts. She fights. She survives. Early on, we learn that she’s just hauled a 120 lb reindeer in from the field, over who knows how many miles. She is tough and wiry and a survivor.

The film is also beautifully shot, with more attention paid to composition than dialogue. It’s nice to watch a filmmaker who actually knows their medium.

There are some fun reveals in this one, so if you want to be surprised, don’t read on any further, as we get into spoiler territory.

——-

When Hanna decides she’s ready to go off and kill the woman who assassinated her mother, she turns on a locator beacon, and her father cleans up and walks away out into the cold Arctic wasteland. They agree to meet up in Berlin at a pre-determined address. He has her memorize a story about who she is and where she’s come from.

Then the swat team comes in.

You see, Hanna’s father is a former U.S. agent, of course, and one of the best. And he has been actively pursued for some time by his handler, a woman named Marissa (the one who he’s trained Hanna to assassinate).

Now, with all this Hanna-trained-to-be-assassin thing, you’d think this would get into weird woman-being-used territory. But in fact, Hanna is far too cool a character for that, and at the end of the day, the film is far less about killing the wicked witch and more about Hanna’s coming of age.

You see, the swat team arrives and spirits Hanna away. She’s then interrogated. She asks to see Marissa. Marissa, not being a stupid person, puts in a double of herself to meet the girl. Hanna kills the double and escapes pretty early on in the movie.

Her mission done, Hanna’s actual story, the story of Hanna the girl, begins.

Hanna walks across a desert and steps into a wholly foreign place for her and for most of the viewers. She stumbles onto a dirt road, and camels, and mud brick fortresses, and we learn we’re in Morocco. Hanna, of course, speaks Arabic, and likely a dozen other languages. She begins to navigate her way in a world she is wholly unprepared for. Electricity. Running water. People in general, who completely confound her.

She meets up with an absolutely lovely and hilarious British family who are just quirky enough to accept her odd ways, and hitches a ride/stows away, and so begins Hanna’s journey from child to woman.

And maybe that’s what I really loved about this movie. It was so very much a woman’s Hero’s journey for about 2/3rds of the film. It’s like the filmmaker realized what the movie was really about at its core, and lovingly spent plenty of time there.

Hanna’s idyllic coming-of-age trek across North Africa and Europe is not all kissing girls and going swimming and stowing away, though. She’s being actively pursued by Marissa’s agents, as are her new fast friends, the quirky British family whom you grow to love absurdly quickly.

Eventually, Hanna learns her true identity and why it is Marissa is pursuing her unto death. She even gets to fight her super assassin father at one point. I was a little sad when they pulled the “You’re a genetically engineered super-assassin” thing (cause she couldn’t just be that cool on her own, the way her “dad” was?), but I got to pretend for the vast majority of the movie that yes, she was just that cool, so hey.

The ending is mired with too much Wicked Witch imagery, and though Marissa is a cold and steely opponent, she seems to be a bit useless without a gun. Bonus? She never gets her Bad Guy Monologue explaining why it was she shut down the super assassin program and killed all of Hanna’s cohorts. We never learn why. It’s not what the story’s about.

This is not a movie without flaws, of course. As noted, the Wicked Witch kill-your-mother thing was overplayed, and I don’t know that a Hero’s journey necessitates the killing of one’s parents. But it was a beautifully thought out, beautifully shot little movie with strong secondary characters. When her quirky British friends are interrogated, I was deeply invested in what would happen to them (in fact, I think the filmmakers pulled their punches a bit with this part of the movie – I think they’d grown a little attached to them, too).

I would recommend this one all over the place.