Spotlight On the Enigmatic Rooney Mara

By Kristy Strouse

With such a pool of talented female actresses currently working it’s difficult to say one that stands out above the others. I could go through a long list of women who have made an impressionable place in movie history, and I still wouldn’t be scraping the surface.

A delicate beauty and an inspirational talent, Rooney Mara, for me, is an actress who is special in her own and very unique way. She has an impressive filmography, but even if she had only done a handful of the movies she’s been in, ones I’m going to highlight now, she’d be legendary to me.

There’s a fragility to her that is easy to feel connected to, and yet, so many of her characters are strong woman. They really go through things, and Mara captures each heartbreaking intricacy of the process.

“A Ghost Story” (2017)

This is a beautiful, transcendent film that really captures time, life and death, and the beauty/heartbreak of change. We are so small in terms of the entirety of existence, but we can truly mean the world to another person. There is a scene in the film, after her character loses the one she loves, proceeding a funeral, where she sits on the floor and eats an entire pie. It’s slow, methodical, and you can feel her anguish in every bite. In this moment she’s not thinking about what she’s doing as much as she is just… doing, and it’s agonizingly slow, really showing us the depth of time in a moment of despair. It’s grief, and it’s remarkably well done.

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Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story (2017) (IMDB)

“A delicate beauty and an inspirational talent, Rooney Mara, for me, is an actress who is special in her own and very unique way.”

The David Fincher Connection

Yes, she’s barely in “The Social Network” (2010), but when she is- you remember her. Her argument with Jesse Eisenberg is one of quick wit. His character, Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook in case you don’t know…somehow) isn’t easily kept up with. His arrogance and intelligence generally outweighs his audience, and Mara proves to be quite the opponent in this quick talking, sparring match. It left those watching to think- who was she? And it made us ultimately want to see more.

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Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (IMDB)

In “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) she truly embodies the character of Lisbeth Salander. Based on Stieg Larsson’s novel and debuting the first American adaptation, Fincher utilizes his moodiness and aptitude for mystery well, but that movie wouldn’t be the brilliant piece of work that it is (yes, I believe it to be) without her as our star. As the wounded, but fierce Salander, Mara is impeccable. She’s able to be intimidating and vulnerable all at once, and yet someone who is hard to fully read. When she’s given the opportunity to use her skills to investigate a missing girl and potential murderer of women, you see a passion ignite in her. I absolutely adore this performance and I love the commitment (both physically and emotionally) that she gives to this role. This is a stellar transformation with her body language, accent and expressions all being entirely purposeful.

“Yes, she’s barely in “The Social Network” (2010), but when she is- you remember her. Her argument with Jesse Eisenberg is one of quick wit…Mara proves to be quite the opponent in this quick talking, sparring match. It left those watching to think- who was she? And it made us ultimately want to see more.”

“Carol” (2015)

Todd Haynes adapts Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt into Carol, a  story of a relationship that blossoms between two women in the 1950’s, a period story of real insight that (despite positive changes) isn’t so far from how many feel today. As Therese Belivet in Carol, the love interest of Cate Blanchett, it could be easy to get outshined. Blanchett has a way of blazing the screen (and she’s a real cinematic chameleon), so the fact that Mara is equally memorable here shows the depth of her talent. As the young store clerk who falls for the married, glamorous older women, she’s the beating heart of this love story. There are these small gazes, those stolen first looks of affection that slowly builds between the two leads until it’s electric. Rooney’s inquisitive, alluring eyes encapsulates it all in heart-racing, love-sick detail.

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Rooney Mara in Carol (2015) (IMDB)

David Lowery‘s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013) is a 1970’s, sort-of Bowie and Clyde rendition. Casey Affleck is an outlaw, and his love, Mara, waits for him with their child. While each moment of the film is suspended in a potential reckoning- a melancholy that doesn’t stop, it’s an indie that’s sold on our ability to buy into their truth. Will she wait for him? Can they make it? Mara keeps her emotions restrained, making her moments of unravel even more incredible.

“Her characters are often thought-provoking, searing, and memorable. I find inspiration in her work, and her passion, and I think she’s truly one of the best young stars to be working.”

In “Una” (2017), she’s a woman determined to confront the much older man she had a relationship with when she was younger. It is an unsettling, somewhat suffocating at times film, but Mara is unrelenting.

She dives into a more mischievous and menacing role with David Cronenberg’s “Side Effects” (2013), delivering the range of her abilities once more. She is calculated but seemingly fractured. Her manipulative nature makes her efficiently believable as both the victim and the one inflicting pain.

In Spike Jonze‘s “Her” (2013), she’s Joaquin Phoenix‘s (her now real fiancé) ex, which catapults him into his search for connection. There is one scene as they sign divorce papers where we see these two incredible actors, riffing off one another, emotionally and pointedly, executing anguish and frustration impeccably well.

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Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara in Her (2013) (IMDB)

There are several more, and undoubtedly, will be as well. She’s already been nominated for two Academy Awards, worked with some of the best in front and behind the camera, and she’s only 34. Her characters are often thought-provoking, searing, and memorable. I find inspiration in her work, and her passion, and I think she’s truly one of the best young stars to be working.

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