TW / CW: The following article contains references to sexual assault.
This review contains spoilers.
When Focus Features released the trailer for Promising Young Woman, writer-director Emerald Fennells for her directorial debut, the premise of the film looked good, promising. In a chilling, sweet sequence, the trailer introduced Cassie (Carey Mulligan): a medical school dropout on a mission to avenge the rape of her friend Ninas and instill fear in the hearts of potential sexual predators everywhere. From this preview, the film seemed to have all the elements of a modern feminist classic. A militant vision of dismantling the culture of rape? Check. A determined and nuanced female protagonist? Yeah. A searing denunciation of the self-proclaimed nice guys who take advantage of women when nobodys watch? Definitely.
Yet when the full movie was finally released, Promising Young Woman failed to deliver on all fronts by offering only a reductive, inconsistent narrative with a damaging message about violence, survival, and justice.
Promising Young Woman first draws viewers in by presenting a compelling and ruthless protagonist in Cassie. Her crusade against sexual violence begins with a ruse we learn she has repeated over and over: she acts drunk in a bar to get supposedly well-meaning men to take her home, then turns on them when they try to. assault him. With ominous shots of Cassie coming home the next day and adding a tally to a notebook full of them, Cassie is implied some sort of feminist Dexter, demanding bloody vigilante justice. This, in itself, is a positive step away from the kind of rape revenge popular in the 1970s, which generally started with free performances of rape. Promising Young Woman resists this tendency to subject viewers to unnecessary and exploitative portrayals of sexual violence that sparked a subsequent rampage, and jumps straight to Cassies’ mission of revenge.
Unfortunately, feminist innovation essentially stops there. By framing Cassie as a bloodthirsty avenger while also reversing the tropes of the rape-revenge genre, the film could still have had a substantive message. Instead, the character of Cassies originally portrayed as cunning, focused, and loyal to Nina is continually undermined by the films’ narrative progression, becoming increasingly inconsistent and one-dimensional.
Firstly, while the film initially involves Cassie taking violent revenge on the bar predators who bring her home, successive scenes reveal that she is actually warning them to stop and then continues on her way. This could be seen as an eye-for-eye ethos critique of rape-revenge stories, which often deprive their heroines of the opportunity to substantially deal with trauma and spur them to brutal violence. Yet, Cassie is never seen explicitly dealing with her trauma; she just ghosts through her parents McMansion and wanders around town. The film becomes the portrait of a woman whose life has been slowed down by a trauma without however unwrapping or developing her interiority.
Additionally, the movie doesn’t actually portray Cassies’ nonviolent tactics as effective: after Cassie comes home with Jerry (Adam Brody) and does her routine, a subsequent meeting with her friend reveals that Jerry spoke about it. to other men and, rather than reflect on her predatory behavior, portrays Cassie as a madman.
Even though it attempts to portray Cassie as a woman on the verge of depression, the film never departs from a picture of perfection ready to be photographed. Whether she’s walking around her house or stalking her targets, she is always fully made up, assembled and designed to the max, a costumed character in a brilliant fantasy rather than a living and breathing person whose inner life is more. more chaotic. Relentless perfection adds to the tonal disconnection of the films, it concocts moments of light in light settings, long intervals of suffocating stillness, and dreamlike sequences of Cassie drifting across fields with a bewildering effect, making it nearly impossible. to follow its objectives. At a time when Cassie has supposedly reached her psychological breaking point, she disguises herself as a sexy nurse as if we are to believe that she has completely cracked under the weight of the patriarchy but still has the perfect costume to maximize the male gaze. . The cinematography, costumes and make-up of the films, while polished, thus add to the dissonance of the film.
After all of that, however, it’s the film’s last act that really destroys its credibility as a feminist resistance piece. Cassie finally decides to take violent revenge on the attackers Ninas, by turning away from the convention of the rape-revenge genre. But the movie never hits the classic feverish rampage streak instead, the ending is anticlimactic, underwhelming, and doesn’t begin to do justice to the cause the movie is centered on.
Ultimately, Cassie and her targets face drastically different consequences, but the public is still believed to be convinced that justice is being served because (some) of Ninas’s attackers are arrested. This supposedly triumphant end is based on a totally unrealistic view of the American justice system. In truth, the arrest of rapists is only the beginning of a long and complex legal process that has been demonstrated time and again favor the perpetrators and minimize the impact of their acts. According to RAIN, of the estimated 13% of rapes that are reported to police and referred to prosecutors, only 7% lead to a felony conviction (meaning almost half of those charged are acquitted.) Yet viewers are still supposed to believing that the authors will be held responsible because the film ends with them in their wrists.
This glorification of the criminal justice system is linked to another glaring problem in Promising Young Woman. Almost everyone in the film, including the Ninas rapists, is white with the exception of Laverne Cox, whose talent is sadly underutilized as she is relegated to a stereotypical sidekick role. Yet the film never struggles with their privilege or how it allows their actions. Its structural racism, as well as its patriarchy, which isolates Ninas rapists from consequences, both legal and social.
Ultimately, Promising Young Woman leaves viewers wondering what he’s trying to say. Superficially, no one wins but, really, some do. Opposed to the culture of rape, the women involved literally die; men continue to live. When asked why Cassie couldn’t survive, Fennell said VultureI just didn’t understand how it would go without it happening. incredibly depressing What happens after you do this stuff? Your lives are still ruined. This is the central problem of the promising young woman: she erects violence as the only real catharsis, portraying all other measures as insufficient, then concludes that, since Cassie resorted to violence, she must die. The only catharsis is martyrdom.
At a time when the #MeToo movement and widespread cultural shifts have opened up spaces for survivors to speak up, empower perpetrators, and deal with trauma, this film allows Cassie (and absent Nina) to do none of that. who is before. Despite the Mulligans’ strong performance, she has little to work on given a storyline that fails to reverse gender tropes or give depth to its protagonist. Promising Young Woman offers little social commentary; instead, it only reveals that nuanced, female-led stories about trauma and recovery (stories like Michaela Coels moving I May Destroy You) are still far too rare in Hollywood.
Editor-in-Chief Harper R. Oreck can be reached at [email protected]
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