Promising Young Woman (2020): A Revenge Drama or an Image of Reality
Tw: Revenge, sexual violence, suicide, grief
“It’s every man’s nightmare getting accused like that,
Can you guess what a woman’s worst nightmare is?”
As bright and hopeful as the color palettes in this film look, when the story of “Promising Young Woman” progresses we get to its rotten core.
The film begins with a montage of middle-age-men with beer bellies dancing in a club while being objectified, with the infamous song ‘Boys’ by Charli XCX playing in the background. We usually see similar montages zooming in on attractive women in most movies, it was a pleasant surprise to see how the director Emerald Fennell turns the tables with this opening scene.
We then meet our protagonist Cassie, through the eyes of a group of entitled men who were already ranting about their female co-worker. Cassie looks black-out drunk and extremely vulnerable, having watched the trailer I did feel that she was not actually drunk. She is taken home by “the nice guy” in the group played by Adam Brody, who turns out to be as evil as his friends and tries to molest Cassie in her drunken state. Cassie quickly calls him out, giving him chances to stop but when he doesn’t she gets up and confronts him. This leaves him shocked as Cassie makes him realize he isn’t as “nice” as he thinks he is.
In the next scene, we see Cassie walking while a blood-like stain drips down her arm. My first assumption was that she killed the Adam Brody character, but turns out, it was just a hot dog dripping down and her weapon of choice was only psychological torment. She simply made the nice guys face their evil behavior.
Till this point, the movie seems repetitive and we get the question of “why is cassie doing this?”
We also learn more about Cassie's home life; she dropped out from med school, works in a coffee shop, and was living with her parents. This was quite unusual as she was a 30- year-old. She seems stoic, ruthless and has no ambitions or dreams in life. Her only friend was her boss and she had no interest in dating unless going to bars and targeting “nice guys” counted as dating.
It is revealed that Cassie’s best friend Nina, who was also in med school with her, was raped while she was extremely drunk during a party. As Cassie wasn’t there to protect Nina during the party, she tries to make up for it by dropping out of med school to take care of Nina. In the end, Nina gives up on her life and commits suicide.
We realize how much Cassie loved her best friend and how she was unable to move on from the grief of losing Nina. It is her grief that makes her take up this mission of showing “nice guys” their true faces when they start taking advantage of her.
One fine day Cassie meets one of her classmates from Med school, Ryan Cooper. She goes out on a date with him after he visits the coffee shop again and again and asks her out. However, meeting Ryan opens up a can of worms for Cassie, he keeps telling her how much “promise” she had as a medical student if she chose not to drop out. He tells her that Al Monroe, the classmate who raped Nina, was getting married and how he thought these “rapists” were not bad guys.
This ticks off Cassie and she decides to actively pursue her revenge.
Unlike other revenge dramas, wherein women develop masculine qualities, become ruthless and wear black clothing or ridiculous leather suits. Cassie's wardrobe and style is very feminine, she is well aware of her emotions and her inability to move on. She does not try to defeat her enemies through violence as seen in movies like “I Spit on Your Grave” or “Kill Bill”.
Revenge and Forgiveness:
Another theme in the movie which many revenge dramas do not include is the concept of forgiveness. There is a scene in the movie in which Cassie has a heart to heart with Nina’s mother played by Molly Shannon, she asks Cassie to move on and to focus on her life, because that’s what Nina would have wanted as well.
This conversation affects Cassie and she finally decides to give up on her revenge and gets closer with Ryan, for a moment “Promising Young Woman” becomes this beautiful Rom-Com and the audience starts rooting for Ryan and Cassie.
If the movie had gone in this path, it would have left me with mixed emotions, forgiveness can be the right path but when it's a movie we want to see justice being served.
Focus on the Predators:
In “Promising Young Woman”, Cassie returns to the path of revenge, when one of her classmates finds a video where Nina was getting raped and filmed and watched by her male classmates. She gives this video to Cassie in a weird attempt to make amends.
In this video Cassie finds Ryan in the audience, she experiences heartbreak, and her need to avenge Nina returns back.
The movie does not explicitly show the video to the audience, all we can see is Cassie’s reaction and hear Nina’s pain and the devious laughter of all the predators watching Nina. The focus is on Ryan, Al Monroe, and all the other men who according to society are “Promising young men or nice guys who have been wrongly accused.” The casting choice was brilliant as the men in the film solely based on their looks seem harmless and “nice”, however, deep down they are not. They are full of excuses and refuse to accept the wicked nature they harbor.
When Cassie confronts Ryan or Al Monroe, all they say is “we were kids”, but they forget that what they did has stopped Cassie and Nina two promising young women from living their life to the fullest.
Only one male character in the film shows extreme remorse and Cassie ends up forgiving him and it was Al Monroe's lawyer Jordan Green who tells her how lawyers basically use social media and take pictures of the victims in questionable situations (for instance a picture of them wearing a bikini), to assassinate their character in the court and make their case sound baseless.
Coming back to the main question of this article: is Promising young woman A Revenge Drama or an Image of Reality?
It is absolutely an image of reality!
As shown in Promising Young Woman, Predators do not need to look dangerous, even your next-door neighbor may not be that innocent. In the movie, Ryan, who witnessed a rape and encouraged it, becomes a pediatrician. (SHOCKING!)
However, there have been cases in which women have made false claims against men, no one is innocent from both genders.
Justice should depend on facts, it should never be a "he said or she said situation." That being said, it is female victims who are gaslighted by society, their peers, and even their college dean, into believing that it was their fault or as if they wanted this gruesome act to happen. In the movie Nina is blamed by others, she is perceived as a characterless woman who regretted having sex with Al and started falsely accusing him of rape. However, the societal figures forget that Nina was not in a mental state to give consent and that is the harsh reality.