In the midst of uncovering one of Hollywood’s most shocking and disgusting allegations of sexual abuse by movie honcho (and ex-co-chairman of The Weinstein Company) Harvey Weinstein, the oppressed voices of women at the hands of older, powerful men are being heard louder than ever.
These current events serve as a timely and fitting backdrop for Benedict Andrews’ feature film debut, Una, which centers around one woman’s mission to confront the man who sexually abused her as a child. Adapted from David Harrower’s Tony award-winning play ‘Blackbird,’ Una opens at the ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark Regent this Friday.
It’s clear from the beginning that something is not right with 27-year-old Una (Rooney Mara). When we are introduced to her, she has just gotten back from a night out at a club where she had engaged in casual sex (her attitude leads us to believe this isn’t the first time). Withdrawn from her family, she seems distracted by her own thoughts. One day, on a whim, Una picks up and drives away. She finally arrives at a nondescript workplace hours from her home. Her emotions begin to cause her physical discomfort, she stops to throw up near the building’s shrubbery. She finally walks into the building. She sees him, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) – the man who molested her when she was 13-years-old.
The confrontation is not a typical one. After serving four years in jail, Una has sought Ray out to continue the fantasy of what was 14 years prior. She loved him and, in a disturbed way, she still loves him. Flashbacks pinpoint moments when Una and Ray’s relationship went from friendly to inappropriate, describing in graphic detail the sexual acts that occurred. But Ray has moved on with no interest in reliving the mistake that nearly cost him his life. Una, though, won’t let him off the hook that easily.
Una‘s tragic flaw is the attempt to sympathize with an abuser while hinting that the abused may be mentally unstable or in some way troubled.
Rooney Mara brings a composed brooding element to ‘Una’ while keeping her doe-eyed childhood innocence intact. Mara takes on an emotional weight in this role and gives many dimensions to Una’s backstory, especially her confusion of still loving her abuser. Ben Mendelsohn as the pedophile Ray lingers in the uncomfortableness of the situation he finds himself in with Una, perhaps in an effort to prove that he is not a total monster, just a man with a dirty past who may never be able to outrun the consequences of his lack of judgment. Riz Ahmed plays the role of Scott, an employee at the company who befriends Una after a particularly disturbing conversation with Ray. Ahmed is compassionate and generous, although that seems to be the extent of his character development.
Una is without a doubt a heavy film, pulling similar vibes from David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Adrian Lyne’s Lolita. It offers an unconventional perspective on sexual abuse from the eyes of the abused, however, I believe it could have championed women’s causes in this situation more strongly. The hardest thing to understand, especially given current events, is why Ray isn’t villainized more harshly. The physical and emotional scars he gave Una will never be forgotten, and the fact that he can move on so (seemingly) nonchalantly is extremely frustrating. It shouldn’t matter whether or not Una still has “feelings” for Ray, that is not the crime here. The real crime is that she was taken advantage of as a child by a man who was old enough to be her father– who clearly knew right vs wrong, legal vs illegal– and that should never be written as anything other than purely disgusting. Una‘s tragic flaw is the attempt to sympathize with an abuser while hinting that the abused may be mentally unstable or in some way troubled. Adaptation or not, the story of Una is not the narrative we should be continuing to tell.
94 minutes. ‘Una’ is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language. Opening this Friday at the Landmark Regent and ArcLight Hollywood.