Rooney Mara Is Emotionally Arresting as ‘Una’

Based on the stage play “Blackbird,” “Una” tells the story of a young woman who confronts an older man, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). The titular character struggles to understand why he abandoned her after they had a sexual relationship when she was just 13-years-old. The film, brilliantly captured by first-time film director, Benedict Andrews, premiered at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival,

The opening two sequences of the picture illustrate to the audience everything they need to know about Una without ever utilizing a single strain of dialogue. The film opens with a slow tracking shot, creeping towards a young girl, Una, awkwardly contorted on a bench wrapped around a tree. She sits there silently as she observes an empty period car sitting in the driveway. It is gloomy, mid-suburbia, yet the sound of children playing or families bustling is eerily absent.

The scene is immediately followed up with a flashy, stylized club sequence. A young woman stumbles throughout the red-filtered dance floor in an empty daze. A harsh cut shows her having sex with a random man against the bathroom mirror. It is all clearly procedural.

Shortly thereafter, the young woman walks up to very house as seen in the opening shot. This is the same insecure little girl who once sat awkwardly on the very bench that sits in front of the house. Only now, she is older. Attempting to suppress her emotions with mind-numbing stimulant and meaningless sex. This is Una.

Although this is the first screen attempt by Australian director Benedict Andrews, his prior experience directing theatrical productions is evident. Andrews knows how to direct actors and work with them in a way that best provides a platform for exceptional performances.

The character of Una was made for Rooney Mara. Or rather, Mara was made to play her. The nature of Mara’s subdued, cold, and nearly numb, persona is quite befitting for the character’s struggles as she attempts to move forward in a life driven by prior trauma. The Academy Award-nominated actress quite convincingly pulls off an English accent with such ease that one could believe it is innate.

David Harrower’s script is uncomfortable but honest. The non-linear storytelling cuts back and forth between Una now, a damaged 30-year-old, to Una then, a 13-year-old in a blindingly intoxicating and forbidden relationship. Una’s attachment towards the man who sexually abused her as a child comes off as damaged and dependent, and her strong will to rekindle a relationship with him years later conveys a very raw look at the consequences of pedophilia.

Perhaps even more striking than Mara’s performance here is Mendelsohn and Andrews’ ability to create a sense of empathy for Ray. There is a real perception that Ray just wants Una to leave him alone. He made every attempt to move past that time in his life, but she, with good reason, is unable to. Even sadder, she is somewhat unwilling. Her fascination with her perpetrator is deeply unsettling and rather disturbing. But then again, it should be.

Una” opens at select theaters in New York Oct. 6, Los Angeles Oct. 13 with a national expansion to follow.