Promising Young Woman is about predatory sexual behaviour by young men towards young women and its aftermath. There is no compromise and the central female character, Cassie, is uncompromising.
Cassie and her dearest friend Nina are as close as sisters. They are top medical students. And then they aren’t. A traumatic incident means the end of their medical studies and their internal demolition as capable and confident young women. Their belief in the trustworthiness of their fellow humans—specifically, young men—is shattered. The emotional scarring is unbearable.
Cassie (Carey Mulligan)
Cassie has unfinished business. She sets a campaign to feign drunkenness to uncover mens’ true intentions and desires. As she discovers, the veil of civility is thin and their willingness to break the veneer of decency is easily broken. Her behaviour is deliberate and provocative; she uses a notebook and a pen with multi-coloured inks to record the men whom she confronts regarding their approach to susceptible women.
Cassie’s goal is to tackle mens’ expectations about actions and values when they think women are vulnerable when intoxicated. The traumatic impact of her and Nina’s ordeal cannot be erased and she continues to confront men and add to her notebook list. This is a never-ending process because the number of men who meet her expectations seems to be endless. She's trying to fix it, but can’t. Cassie’s plight reflects her feeling that a good man is hard to find.
When she meets Ryan, her protective barriers are breached slightly because he finally appears to be a man with a caring nature and good heart. Although there are a few miscues in his behaviour, Cassie believes there may be salvation for him and she discards the list of perpetrators in her notebook.
Cassie and Ryan
Cassie is wary of any potential connection and remains distant from a relationship with any man she encounters. Ryan, at first, makes he uneasy, and then comfortable. Her uncertainty is confirmed and then dissolved in what she believes may be a good man.
Cassie still can’t resign her feelings about her and Nina’s damaged lives. She eventually is convinced by friends and family that she needs to move away from her revenge vendetta. Until Cassie uncovers information that enacts a master plan to enact her revenge. The planning and execution goes as expected and we, the audience, see what’s coming, even with hesitation that it could go badly wrong for Cassie. We believe the film’s resolution will be what we expect. Because Hollywood dramas work that way. Then it goes awry. It’s difficult to give details because it will undermine what happens. Let me say the avalanche of events is unnerving and violent. It embodies everything that has happened up to this point and the social and emotional expectations between men and women in its most dire sense.
A good man is hard to find
As Cassie reflects, men who behave appallingly inevitably say things like, “But I’m a good person”, “I’m not like that”, and “I’m a nice guy”. Until they’re not. Their actions, behaviour and mindset override their words. And that behaviour happens in public. In conversations between men. In conversations with women. It’s there but it’s hidden and explained away whereas Cassie makes it evident and in-your-face.
Promising Young Woman propels itself to a double-edged ending that is audacious—one ending that is unexpected for a Hollywood mainstream movie and a denouement with a sting in its tale that will leave you gasping audibly. The sudden shift in Cassie’s position is terrible. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Her revenge is upturned. You could easily say, it’s just a movie, except that the behaviours and action exposed in this movie reflects evidence about real life and real world behaviours. Either way, it’s disturbing.
Not just a tale of revenge, Promising Young Woman is a tale about justice and Cassie’s hope that the men she encounters will surprise her with a sense of respect and sincerity, not a sense of exerting an exclusive power on susceptible woman.
Another key observation by film enthusiast Klara, after reflecting upon Cassie's actions in Promising Young Woman, provides a moment of clarity about forgiveness and Cassie's assailant's ability to express genuine remorse. Cassie is overwhelmed by forgiveness. It unsettles her. Klara's observation is complemented by the film's director Emerald Fennell in the article Promising Young Woman: Emerald Fennell On Her Fascination With Female Villains by Terri White (empire online, Posted on 15 April 2021).
"Cassie is the avenging angel, [but] I think everything is forgivable. Almost everything, within reason. But two things are crucial, and those things go back to any religion or any philosophy, which is to acknowledge and apologise. And if you don’t, then that’s when it can’t be forgotten. That’s the problem, and I think this is so common — people want forgiveness without the acceptance that what they did was wrong. And I think for most people who’ve been through any kind of — particularly this sort of thing, but any kind of — trauma, it’s often not the thing itself, it’s being made insane. We’ve been taught to think, “Oh, I’ve probably misinterpreted.” And so really, this is a film about saying… If we’re talking about our revenge story and we’re talking about an avenging angel, she’s coming with two options. One is forgiveness that comes with repentance, or, “If you don’t see your fault, I’ll show it to you.”
from the article Promising Young Woman: Emerald Fennell On Her Fascination With Female Villains by Terri White (empire online, Posted on 15 April 2021)
READ the complete interview: Promising Young Woman: Emerald Fennell On Her Fascination With Female Villains
Carey Mulligan as Cassie is remarkable. She is contradictory. Strong and exposed. Calculating and unpredictable. Determined yet sensitive. Cassie can intimidate you with a stare.
Scriptwriter and director Emerald Fennell shapes a complex lead character, Cassie, with a set of complicit supporting characters, Ryan, Joe and Al Monroe, and a spiralling story that will have you wondering how it will all play out in the final game of deceit, treachery and cruelty that resolves Promising Young Woman.
Take time to debrief and reset yourself emotionally and psychologically after watching Promising Young Woman. You will need it. I certainly needed time to think about what I’d just seen.
Official Trailer Promising Young Woman
Academy Awards 2021
WINNER Best Original Screenplay
Academy Awards 2021
NOMINEE Best Actor
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