Making Sense of “Una”: Revisiting the Scars of the Past

This post includes a plot explanation, an analysis and a review of the 2016 film “Una”. Beware of spoilers.

If Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” had a sequel, “Una” would be it. The 2016 drama directed by Benedict Andrews is a film adaptation of the play “Blackbird”. “Una” is not for the faint of heart, as it deals with difficult subjects such as paedophilia, sexual abuse, grooming, and gaslighting. The film stars Rooney Mara as “Una” and Ben Mendelsohn as “Ray”.

“Una” is about a young woman who goes after her abuser. During this journey, she unravels buried memories and hidden desires.

When Una was barely a teenager, she had a sexual relationship with a much older man named Ray. They even ran away from their community to start a new life. However, due to a misunderstanding, the police arrested Ray and Una never saw him after the incident.

Years later, Una tracks down Ray, who has changed his name: he is now “Pete”. The old man is not doing bad in life, he is currently working as a warehouse manager. At first, Pete thought Una was just some “scammer” digging for a “juicy story”. But soon, Ray realizes that he is standing in front of “Una”.

At this point, Ray is trying to avoid Una at all costs. As the story unravels, they both find themselves in situations where they can’t run from each other. During these moments, Ray insists that he is not the “bad guy”. According to him, his “fling” with Una was a one-time thing. Meanwhile, Rays asks one of his employees, Scott, to escort the Una out of the warehouse.

During her short stay at Scott’s apartment, Una tries to extract a little more information about Ray. Then, she persuades Scott to take her to Ray’s party. Tension arises when Una arrives at the party. And things get worse for Ray when Una talks to his wife.

While wandering around Ray’s house, Una finds a teenage girl’s bedroom. Its owner enters and demands an explanation. This girl is not Ray’s child, she belongs to his wife’s previous relationship.

Una storms out of the bedroom and insinuates that Ray is abusing his stepdaughter. He denies it all and tells Una that she was the only one. The film ends with Ray kissing Una in front of his wife, the stepdaughter, and Scott. After that, Una leaves the property and wanders away.

Human relationships are complex, and Una and Ray’s interactions are proof of that.

As an adult, Una comprehends what happened to her as a child. Nonetheless, part of her still yearns for the connection she once felt with Ray, whether it’s right or wrong. When it comes to Ray, he tries to deny his wrongful actions, but deep inside he feels guilt and desires redemption.

Ironically, the truth did not set Una and Ray free. Although Una succeeded at “exposing” Ray and his past, her actions didn’t bring her much closure. At the very end, Ray had no other option but to admit what he did. Kissing Una was a gesture of redemption, or at least, an attempt.

Despite his charming demeanour, Ray took advantage of a child and his actions had terrible ramifications for the latter.

Throughout the film, Ray insists that Una was a mistake, implying that after her, he never laid his eyes on a child ever again. However, is it true? Maybe not. Also, it seems that Ray is trying to run away from the truth.

No matter how many times Ray tries to change his narrative, he will always be the predator or the abuser of that story. There is a clear power imbalance whenever the relationship involves people with large age gaps, especially when one is a minor. In addition, there is an issue with consent.

Ray’s great talent is his way with words, he is an articulate individual who knows how to persuade people. So, when the audience watches him giving his side of the story to Una, he is essentially attempting to gaslight her by convincing her that everything was consensual. But here’s the catch: Una wasn’t old enough to consent, so Ray was practically grooming from the start.

The truth is actually quite ugly and sad: Ray is a predator and Una wasn’t a one-time mistake, she might have been his first victim. Having said that, Ray wasn’t in love with Una, he saw an opportunity and took advantage of her innocence. If Ray really loved Una, he wouldn’t have done that to her.

By the way, Una might be onto something: it’s plausible that Ray is abusing his stepdaughter too. She’s around the same age as Una when Ray started to make advances on her. Sometimes people tell lies to themselves to justify their terrible actions. Ray is lying to himself and wants to fool the world with his lies.

The aftermath of the events didn’t have the same weight for the parties involved. One side moved on, while the other stayed in essentially limbo.

Una is an unstable adult because of what Ray did to her. After Ray went to prison, the whole town became aware of what happened to Una. But unlike Ray, Una didn’t run away and change her identity. Una had to stay where her trauma began.

As for Ray, even though he spent four years in prison, the man was able to rebuild his life after his release. Ray moved to another town and changed his name. Creating a new identity allowed Ray to live a normal life and have things such as a long-term partner and a stable job. Having said that, Ray robbed Una’s chance to live to her full potential.

The film “Una” concludes with an ambiguous and haunting ending, leaving the audience to wonder about the fate of the protagonist and of the antagonist.

Although the ending scene of “Una” does not give any clues about what’s going to happen to Una and Ray, it’s clear that this is not a happy ending. Una leaves “empty-handed”, as Ray is unwilling to admit the damage he has inflicted on her life.

The only thing that Ray does is keep gaslighting Una the entire time. At some point, Ray even insinuates that Una “seduced him” and he just went along with it, which goes to show that he doesn’t deserve as much sympathy as some viewers might’ve initially thought.

In this story, some individuals are looking for forgiveness, while others are trying to forgive.

When Una left Ray’s property, there was only emptiness in her eyes. Una realizes that she’ll never get over him or what he did. Even worse, she can’t find the strength to hate him or forgive him. Deep down inside, she truly believed that what they had was real. But it wasn’t. Yet she can’t come to terms with how she feels about Ray.

What about Ray? What is going to happen to him? Now, the cat is pretty much out of the bag. The wife, the stepdaughter, and Scott know that Una is more than an acquaintance. It’s clear that he had an intimate relationship with this young woman. No one kisses someone they barely know like that.

So was the kiss an act of redemption for Ray? Not necessarily. Although he could’ve done it out of guilt, he most likely did it so she would stop following him. Honestly, those four years in jail and “exposing himself” are not enough to undo the damage. Una is incapable of having or maintaining a long-term relationship because of him.

Final Thoughts

“Una” is one of those films that you can only watch once because it’s heavy and that ending will haunt the viewer for days. Despite its intriguing premise, the film does come without flaws.

Performance-wise, Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn are both brilliant in their respective roles, as they made both characters believable. Mendelsohn is the reason why you have doubts about Ray’s true intentions with Una.

As a viewer, I know that Ray is at fault. However, the way he tells his story makes you feel sympathy for him. However, these contradicting feelings are all due to Ben Mendelsohn’s brilliant performance. In addition, Rooney’s performance is absolutely beautiful. She makes the audience feel almost the same emotions as her character’s: frustration, loneliness, and betrayal.

Although the performances were great, the pace of the film was a bit off. It was slow when it needed to be faster. In addition, the flashbacks were a bit unnecessary, in my opinion. We don’t need to see the younger versions of the two characters to understand what really happened between them.

Overall, “Una” is a very interesting watch. The contrast between a flawed protagonist and an antagonist that inspires sympathy really makes the audience question their opinions about the characters.