An Unnecessarily Comprehensive Study of Rooney Mara’s Face
From the first time I saw her on screen – in 2010’s The Social Network – something has stuck with me about Rooney Mara – particularly her face. It’s not that she’s pretty (she is), it’s something else. Something deeper. Something slightly off, lurking just beneath her stark and piercing – yet distant – eyes. She’s jumped out in every performance I’ve seen since. Not in a provocative or alarming way, but in an intriguing way. Mesmerizing. Enchanting. And it wasn’t until discussing the trailer for 2017’s A Ghost Story with a friend that I realized what exactly it is about Rooney Mara that’s hypnotized me so.
She’s deceptively alive.
She’s very clearly attractive but also somewhat… skeleton-like. Ghostly. (Which explains the way she’s seemed to haunt me all these years.) Her arresting cheekbones give a slight sickly, feeble look to her. In many of her films and public appearances her skin is pale and with just the right makeup and lighting, her eyes can look sunken in. It’s an eerie, almost ghastly visage that’s betrayed only by the fact that she is very definitely alive. Living and breathing and moving. Her soft chin balances her pointed cheekbones. Her bright and radiant eyes glow against their surrounding shadowed eyelids. Her hair – no matter how she seems to cut or style it – gives off a youthful flair; sometimes casual and care-free, other times chic and delicate. Altogether it’s as if she holds in her facial features the very balance of life and death.
That’s an incredibly heavy weight to bear, which also explains a similar intangible quality inherent in her acting. In every role she’s played, she’s able to deftly switch between strength and weakness, tenacity and fragility – balancing opposing internal struggles externally with ease. Her strong, fierce characters can often seem to totter on the verge of shattering with emotion, and her shy and bashful, introverted characters can transform into explosive, powerful presences in mere moments. She can both dominate and disappear into the screen.
In the movie Carol, she seems to float through every scene she’s in, as if the entire film is taking place inside a dream she’s having – or perhaps an out-of-body experience. She’s graceful in her movements, elegant in the way she seems to drift through life. “What a strange girl you are,” Cate Blanchett as Carol says to her. “Why?” “Flung out of space.” Every shy smile, every distant look, refrained movement and subtle show of emotion hints at something deeper happening inside. She’s quiet until she’s provoked enough to shout, slow and subdued until impassioned.
In Her, she’s very nearly a ghost herself, as the ex-wife haunting Joaquin Phoenix and casting her spectral presence over his new relationship with an operating system. She appears in silent flashbacks, as fading glimpses of the past. She’s the human-past foil to his technological-present – and yet she seems so distant, almost lifeless, that we’re convinced that he truly does have a deeper connection to the operating system. And in Side Effects she’s both thrilling and haunting. In every scene she’s either terrified or terrifying, as she plays a character who, suffering from depression, is prescribed pills that induce bouts of sleepwalking. She literally floats through scenes like a ghost, with the audience wondering what’s happening behind her captivating, glossed-over eyes. Her distant face is a mask hiding her true feelings and intentions.
And then there’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, probably her most notable role to date. She plays the eccentric Lisbeth Salander, brilliant hacker and private investigator with a dark past and darker persona. Rooney completely disappears into the role – her eyes hidden further into her face behind thick makeup, eyebrows bleached to blend into her paler-than-usual skin, black hair chopped and spiked and several piercings covering her face. She looks more skeletal and spooky than ever – yet even more alluring.
Who is this girl? Is she even alive? Is she beautiful or is she terrifying? Is she haunting or is she charming? She’s got an impressive line of films queued for the next few years, so perhaps we will soon find out…