Promising Young Woman | A Twist on Revenge and the Extremes of Guilt

TRIGGER WARNING: Mention of sexual assault, violence, unpopular opinions of men.

Spoilers Ahead.

We were just kids. She was just as drunk as we were. If she didn’t want to be assaulted she shouldn’t have been drunk in a public place. These excuses and many more have often been used by men to excuse their and other men’s behavior when it comes to what happens to young women in public and private places. It is extremely sad that all too often these excuses are used in the trend of “blaming the victim” when a woman is either nearly or fully sexually assaulted. Hell, even other women tend to blame women giving similar excuses as that is not how a “young lady should dress or act”. Violence against women, especially that of a sexual nature, is both disgusting and crude but it seems like it is all explained away by blaming the victim for their own assault. “What were you doing out so late”, “Maybe if you dressed a little less provocatively this wouldn’t have happened.” I typically save my opinions for the end of my articles but I feel as if I should start this one of with a very strong one that has been on my mind ever since I watched the 2020 film Promising Young Woman: Both men and women who start off blaming the victims of sexual assault do so as a first line of defense to excuse their own behavior. Men for being the perpetrators of it and women for not wanting to label themselves as “that kind of woman”. It’s as if no one actually wants to admit that this horrible thing could happen to or around them so they find it easier to deny and blame rather than to face it head on. But, there are those who don’t want to deny it. There are women out there who are outspoken about either their assault or the assault of a close friend and call for the acknowledgement of it…. No matter the consequences. I believe this to be the core thesis of the film Promising Young Woman.

Written and Directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman follows a 30 something barista named Cassandra Thomas, played by Carey Mulligan. She used to be in medical school but dropped out after a horrible incident, which we find out in a piecemeal manner throughout the film. Cassie spends her time working as a halfway decent barista, lives with her parents and has a rather unique hobby. At night, Cassie dresses up, gets drunk and hangs out at a bar alone where she lets men take her to their place. Sounds a bit weird right? Well, the thing is… Cassie isn’t actually drunk. In fact, she doesn’t drink at all. Cassie puts herself in what looks like “compromising positions” to bait men into potentially tapping into their darker nature, a nature in which Cassie believes all men have and will always default to, so she can catch them in the act.

Cassie (Mulligan) acting drunk at a bar.

We first see this at the beginning of the film where Cassie, acting very drunk at a club dressed in a business suit, is hit on by a man named Jerry, played by Adam Brody. At first Jerry seems like the typical “nice guy” by asking her name, if she has a way to get home or if she’d like him to call anyone for her. Slurring her words Cassie is clearly incapacitated, or so Jerry thinks, so he offers to get them an Uber and have it take her home. While in the car Jerry decides to re-route the Uber to his apartment and tells Cassie they’ll just have one drink at his place and he will take her home later. Once at his apartment, we see Jerry set Cassie down on his couch and pour them both drinks; Cassie’s glass being filled almost to the brim. From here, Jerry begins to kiss Cassie, fondle her and then take her to his bedroom. At this point, you really believe Cassie is about to be sexually assaulted because she’s groaning “what are you doing” and Jerry just keeps talking about how hot she is while he takes her underwear off. Then, as if she flips a switch in her mind, she clearly says “What are you doing”. This obviously shocks Jerry as he immediately stops what he’s doing as a haunted look washes over his face.

Cassie flips the script on Jerry.

After this, we cut to Cassie walking down the street with what looks like blood on her leg, until the camera pans up to reveal her eating a hotdog with ketchup dripping down her arm and leg. There is a very telling scene here where she is accosted by some construction workers across the street. They tell her to “Smile” and some other inappropriate little quips; this results in Cassie shooting them a dark look and kind of begins walking toward them. This act scares the men and they just walk away, whispering things about her under their breath. I believe this scene really sets the tone for the rest of the film but I’ll get to its significance later. Next, we see Cassie head home and pull out a 90’s looking scrunchy and a worn notebook that has names and tick marks in red and blue. Initially I thought the colors had a specific significance; the red tick marks and names were men she killed or mutilated and the blue marks were for men whom she scared the living hell out of. To my surprise though, these names and marks in her notebook are just noting men she’s tricked into taking her home because she appears drunk and stops them by revealing she is completely sober when they try to take advantage of her. Cassie has been taking it upon herself to confront men like this and letting them know that if they were to pull this again on any woman to be aware because they never know who they will be doing this to. This statement is even more solidified when she does this again to a guy who tries to put the moves on her while “drunk” and Cassie quickly pulls her sober act and tells him he better be careful because she knows of a woman who carries around a pair of scissors in her purse.

Cassie marks her successes for the night.

The story really picks up when, while at her job at the coffee shop, an old medical school colleague named Ryan (Bo Burnham) walks in, recognizes her and asks her out on a date. At first, Cassie rejects him but seeing him brings up some old memories of her med school days. This leads to Cassie going on a sort of Kill Bill style mission where she hops on Friendster and finds out that a guy from school named Al Monroe, played by Chris Lowell, is about to get married. Al was an instrumental part of what happened to her best friend Nina Fisher and why she dropped out of school. Seeing this post leads Cassie to track down and meet up with an old friend of hers named Madison, played by Allison Brie. Madison had posted she was so excited that “Her two favorite people in the world were getting married” and this kind of sets Cassie off. Madison agrees to meet Cassie at a fancy restaurant where Cassie orders champagne and a glass of ginger ale. At first I wasn’t sure what she was doing but, as the scene played on, it all became clear. Cassie was actively trying to get Madison drunk after she ended up saying some pretty disgusting things about Nina. Cassie initially tries to talk to Madison about why she dropped out of school and asks her a very tough question about why she didn’t believe that Nina had been sexually assaulted when she tried to come to her for help. Madison says something to the effect of Nina sleeping around so much that she wasn’t going to blow the whistle on a friend because Nina slept with someone and ended up regretting it. I believe this conversation was Cassie giving Madison a chance to come clean about her explicit involvement in what happened to Nina. This clearly did not go well so Cassie continues with her well crafted plan of getting Madison blitzed at the restaurant and leaving her there.

Cassie has drinks with Madison (Allison Brie)

Before she goes, Cassie stops at the bar and slips an envelope to a man wearing a suit and pointing Madison out to him. Cassie lets him know what hotel and room she’s staying in. The man asks Cassie if she’s “sure she’s good with this” and Cassie simply responds with “Yeah, she’s into this”. Before you start judging Cassie for this, let me explain what actually happens. Madison was in no danger whatsoever. Cassie just got her super drunk and paid this guy to take her to her hotel room and put her to bed. He also stayed in the room to keep an eye on her. With Madison thinking that something else may have happened, she keeps calling Cassie the next day asking questions like “Do you remember me hitting on a guy at the restaurant?”. Cassie completely ghosts her and gives her a taste of what Nina felt when she went to her for help, which I thought was a genius move.

Cassie approaches Dean Walker’s daughter.

After this, we see Cassie outside of a school and asks a young girl for directions to a local diner. She says she’s a makeup artist going to the diner to do makeup for an indie pop band, which the girl she’s talking to says is her favorite. Cassie just asks for directions but the girl says she will help her get to the diner only if she takes her along. Cassie plays it up like she’s making a compromise but this is what she wanted all along. After this, we see Cassie at her old school meeting with the Dean. Their meeting starts off normal enough as she explains wanting to re-enroll after leaving but then the conversation takes an intense turn when she begins to talk about Nina Fisher. Cassie asks Dean Walker, played by Connie Britton, if she remembers Nina and what happened to her. Initially Dean Walker says no but Cassie takes her upon herself to refresh the Dean’s memory as well as fill in the gaps for the audience. Cassie walks Dean Walker through Nina attending a party and being raped by Al Monroe in a room full of guys who just stood there and watched. She tells the Dean she initially reported it to her and the dean refused to do anything about it due to what she believed was “lack of evidence” and not wanting to “ruin the life/reputation of a young man”. Once the dean begins to remember this, she continues to defend her initial decision as Al Monroe is one her most distinguished alumni.

Cassie talks with Dean Walker.

Cassie then begins to mention to the dean that, as a trip down memory lane, she stopped by that old frat house where Nina was raped and was surprised she didn’t shut it down. Not only that but she went there with her daughter and there were guys who were throwing a mid-day party. Dean Walker’s face goes as white as a ghost’s as Cassie continues to taunt her by saying something to the effect of, “since you weren’t worried about a young girl being on her own in a place like that back then you should have no problem with your daughter being there now”. Although the dean seems disturbed she still says she doesn’t remember the house or the room and demands that she tell her where her daughter is. As Cassie continues to describe how she saw bottles of vodka everywhere and she shouldn’t be worried because the boys in the frat seem like good students, dean Walker finally breaks down and admits she remembers everything about what happened but just didn’t want to believe it or suffer the consequences that would inevitably come from Al Monroe’s family. After a brief silence and the dean pleading with Cassie one last time to tell her where her daughter is, Cassie admits she’s just sitting at a diner downtown. She tells her she can call her if she doesn’t believe her. Dean Walker calls immediately but a ring is heard and Cassie digs the daughter’s phone out of her purse. Cassie leaves the phone on the dean’s desk and tells her she may want to return it to her daughter.

Dean Walker (Connie Britton)

The next stop on Cassie’s mission is to the home of a lawyer named Jordan, played by Alfred Molina. Jordan was the lawyer who defended Al Monroe when Nina’s family tried to bring her case to court. Cassie knocks on his door and, when he opens the door, Jordan seems wild eyed but not at all surprised to see her. When he invites Cassie in he even comments that he was waiting for the day she would show up. Since defending Al Monroe, Jordan was never quite the same. He tells Cassie he had a mental breakdown and started working from home. He goes on to tell her he knew he would win that case for Al because of the optics basically. This scene really highlights something that defense lawyers in assault cases rely upon every day. They do everything they can to discredit the victim by digging up risque pictures on social media and text messages. Defense attorney’s use these elements to make the victim look like someone who basically “had it coming” and their client as being someone who was just giving them something they already wanted. Jordan explains this to Cassie and even said he had people in his office who’s entire job consisted of combing through social media to track down compromising photos and posts, which is what he did in Nina’s case. He was clearly haunted by this, which led to his mental breakdown and desperation to attone. Jordan gets on his knees and begs Cassie to help him with this. He says he cannot sleep and wants to be forgiven for what he’s done. Cassie, both confused and conflicted, says she forgives him and says “sleep”. When Cassie leaves Jordan’s home and heads to her car, a bulky bald man is waiting for her by the car and asks her “Do you want me to go in now?” Cassie responds with a simple no. When the man asks if he’s still going to get paid she says “yes”.

Cassie confronts a tortured Jordan (Alfred Molina)

I’m just speculating here but I believe Cassie hired that man to break into Jordan’s house and beat him up. I think Cassie called the man off because her conversation with Jordan went in a completely different direction than with Madison and Dean Walker. He was the only person that had something to do with Nina Fisher that actually felt remorse. For this reason and after an eye opening visit with Nina’s mother, played by Molly Shannon, Cassie halts her well crafted plans for revenge.

I forgot to mention this earlier but while Cassie is doing all of this she is dating Ryan. After initially rejecting him, Cassie agrees to go out on a date with him and begins to enjoy his company. She starts to believe that he is a genuinely good guy. I mean hell, he’s a pediatrician whose patients love him, he’s smart, funny and doesn’t really associate with the guys from their medical school. It looks like Cassie is finally ready to stop her crusade for revenge and move on until Madison shows up to her parent’s house.

Cassie & Ryan (Bo Burham)

Cassie comes clean and says nothing happened to her. She paid the guy to make sure she got to her hotel room safely and kept an eye on her while she slept. She even admits the reason she did this was to give her a taste of her own medicine for how she handled things with Nina. Madison, although upset, seems to calm herself and agrees that what she did was reprehensible. In fact, she says Cassie ghosting her really made her think about the night Nina came to her about what happened and she remembered a video that was making the rounds after that night. Madison hands Cassie an old phone and tells her she didn’t know what it was back then, as things were just a drunken haze, but she thinks Cassie should have a look at it. Cassie takes the phone and Madison tells her she can keep it and do whatever she wants with the video under one condition; that she never contact her again.

Madison confronts Cassie.

Once Madison leaves, Cassie turns on the phone and watches the video file that was queued up. I’d like to thank the editor and director for making the decision to NOT show the video but only show Cassie’s reaction to it. Not only do I think this makes the scene more effective but it also helps us understand Cassie’s motivations even more. While watching the video, Cassie is obviously disturbed. And why wouldn’t she be? She’s watching a video of her best friend being raped in a room full of men not doing anything to help her. Just staring and commenting. As the video begins to end, we hear a familiar voice coming from the phone. The voice of Ryan is heard and he’s revealed as being one of the guys in the room watching everything go down and even comments to the person recording the video to stop recording him. Not the assault of course, but his face in general. This absolutely floors Cassie. She let this seemingly “good guy” into her life and actually thought she could be happy and live a normal life with him.

Cassie reacts to video.

After some contemplation she visits Ryan in his office. At first he’s happy to see her as she’s been MIA for the past few days, but his happiness quickly turns to confusion and worry when Cassie confronts him about Nina’s assault. Ryan tries to lie and says he has no idea what she’s talking about until she shows him the video. Ryan’s face goes white and Cassie threatens to send this to his bosses, colleagues and patients unless he reveals the location of Al Monroe’s bachelor party that coming weekend; an event she found out about on Friendster just before she deletes her account. Ryan reluctantly writes down the address for her and begins calling her names as she leaves. This is when Cassie’s crusade comes full circle. She dresses up like a, and I literally cannot come up with another name for this but, “naughty nurse” and shows up at the secluded cabin where Al’s bachelor party is being held.

Cassie makes her way to the cabin.

When she arrives the best man opens the door and asks around as to who hired her. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, he lets her in and Cassie begins to do her thing. She sits Al down in a chair while she pours vodka shots directly into the other guys mouths that are all lined up around her. She then whispers into Al’s ear that she wants to take him upstairs. Al protests and says she doesn’t have to do that and his soon to be wife wouldn’t like it. Cassie then gets close to his ear and says “I don’t get paid unless I go upstairs with you”. Al sighs but agrees and they head upstairs while all the guys continue to party downstairs. Once upstairs, Cassie handcuffs Al to the bed and then takes his shoes off. Initially, Al just kind of chuckles and says she can “do her little dance” and then let him go. He also says “I’m a good guy. You don’t have to handcuff me”. Cassie responds with something like “All nice guys say that and they’re normally the most handsy”, a little foreshadowing for what’s to come.

Al (Chris Lowell) handcuffed to the bed.

It all seems like fun and games until Cassie pulls out a little case with some needles and pulls out a scalpel. This is where things get serious and Al tries to free himself. He calls for help but Cassie reveals she dosed that bottle of vodka she poured shots out of. He asks frantically who she is but Cassie says her name is Nina Fisher. Al quickly tells her she’s not Nina Fisher and identifies her as Nina’s friend Cassie. Cassie is surprised Al actually remembered her and goes on a whole monologue about what he did to Nina and how she had to live with the scar of his name all over her, which eventually led to her taking her own life. She continues by saying she will make him feel what she felt by carving her name into him so he can live with the scar of her all over him. At this point Cassie straddles him with the scalpel in her hand with every intention of cutting him but Al is able to get one of his hands free and pin Cassie down. He quickly grabs a pillow and uses his knee to smother her with it. After one continuous shot of Al smothering Cassie until she stops moving, he finally stops.

Cassie taunts Al.

He ends up falling asleep and the next morning the best man, Joe, walks into the room. Al begins to cry and panic but Joe just thinks he’s talking about sleeping with her. After some investigating Joe realizes she’s dead. Al keeps freaking out and says repeatedly that he killed her and is quickly calmed by Joe saying it was not his fault. I thought it was very interesting that Al never reveals to his best man what actually happened and who she was. I was thinking it could have been extreme shock but it could have also been him continuing to deny his role in Nina’s assault. It’s like he’s actively trying to explain away his behavior by not even bringing it up to anyone. Joe tells Al that the guys are still passed out downstairs and they can just tell people she danced for him then left and that’s the last time anyone saw her. Al silently agrees and they move Cassie’s body to a secluded spot behind the cabin and burn her in a bonfire.

Al & Joe (Max Greenfield) burn Cassie’s body.

We get a close up of Cassie’s neck and see a half heart necklace with Nina’s name on it. Throughout the film Cassie always wore the side of the heart that had her name on it. In the next scene, a few days have gone by and the police visit Cassie’s parent’s house because they had reported her missing. They tell the police she had a boyfriend so they end up visiting Ryan next. The police say she’s been missing a few days and asked about the last time he saw her. Ryan spins the truth and tells them the last time they saw each other was before she went missing and she actually broke up with him when they spoke. He says he had no idea where she was going and they haven’t talked since.

Cassie’s mom and dad (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown)

This part of the film actually really pissed me off. The entire film we see Cassie being very smart and calculating in everything she’s done but everyone seems to get away with things and Cassie was cremated in the middle of nowhere so there is no way to find her body. Al gets married, with Ryan attending the wedding, and everything seems to work in the villains favor as it were. But, something happens that I didn’t quite expect. We get a few scenes interlocked with Al’s wedding of Jordan opening a package from Cassie with the cell phone Madison gave her and a note with instructions in the case of her reported disappearance, her boss at the coffee shop, played by Laverne Cox, opening the cash register to find her half heart necklace and then the police finding the funeral pyre Al & Joe burned Cassie’s body in. Next, we see the police roll up on Al’s wedding during the reception placing him under arrest while Ryan keeps getting scheduled messages coming from Cassie saying “Did you think this was over” and “Enjoy the wedding”. Next, was a winky face emoji and the film ends.

Ryan gets Cassie’s messages.
Cassie’s last message comes in.

There is so much to unpack about this film but I’d like to start with the ending. As I mentioned earlier, when Al kills Cassie and seemingly gets away with everything I became physically upset. I literally screamed “what the fuck”, paused the movie and walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I am big on revenge being rightfully justified and fulfilled in films but this messed me up a bit. We see Cassie being very smart, cool (for the most part) and calculated with all of her actions throughout the film just to be murdered when she had full control of the situation? She had Al cuffed to a bed and dosed anyone who could have interfered while he called for help, yet he was still able to overpower her. Cassie dies unceremoniously and it seems like the bad guys win again. Luckily, as I calmed myself and continued to watch, the true crime buff in me kicked in and I really thought about her murder and everything that was set into motion afterwards. Murder is a federal crime which carries no statute of limitations, unlike rape/sexual assault. Cassie desperately wanted justice and revenge for her best friend but, with Nina dead, Al acquitted and so much time passed, she knew there was no way her rape could be tried in court again and no one involved would be punished… but murder is something completely different.

Al kills Cassie.

Cassie essentially sacrificed herself to get Al put in prison, where he belongs, and get everyone involved in Nina’s rape to suffer consequences that were long overdue. Sending Jordan the phone with instructions of what to do with the video upon news of her disappearance pretty much solidified that everyone on that video, including Ryan, would lose their jobs, positions of power and reputation in their respective professions. Although initially skeptical, I was very satisfied with this film’s ending. Cassie went full scorched Earth and brought everyone down who actively took part in Nina’s assault, which sent a very strong message to those involved and also set up a powerful warning to those who could possibly find themselves in the same situation. I believe this to be the apotheosis of this film. In one fell swoop, Cassie punished the individual who committed a heinous assault, those who watched and did nothing and those who took to blaming the victim instead of helping her. One has to assume her actions, along with the “talks” she would have with those men who picked her up and took her home when they thought she was drunk, made the news or at least some buzz on social media and really forced a serious conversation among both men and women. I mean think about it, when you unearth the past and a cold, harsh light is shined on something you thought would never come back on you, retroactive consequences could end up ruining the life you’ve made for yourself.

Al sees police arrive at his wedding.

Now, I’m not in the business of playing devil’s advocate for those who were indirectly involved in sexual assault… so I won’t even start here. Everyone involved in Nina Fisher’s sexual assault, especially those who were in the room watching, had a choice to help her but actively decided not to. I think that, in the world of this film, if the public were to read about this they would really question how they would act in a situation like that. I believe those people would make more of an effort to believe the victim and if they see anything that looks like it is or could be sexual assault, to get involved with stopping said assault. I believe a deep lesson is learned by the fictional characters of this film and also taught to those watching.

The next aspect of this film I’d like to discuss is it’s very modern twist on revenge. Many times throughout this article I referenced Quentin Tarantino’s 2003, two part revenge drama Kill Bill as a similar comparison to this film. If you are unfamiliar with Kill Bill, I recommend you watch part 1 & 2 immediately. As a quick overview, Kill Bill is about an assassin who is wronged by her crew and goes on a bloody journey of violence and revenge. I thought about this film a lot while watching Promising Young Woman due to some subtle nods it gives to Kill Bill.

Kill Bill (written and directed by Quentin Tarantino)

For instance, Cassie has a notebook that she writes men’s names in and adds tick marks to it. Even when Cassie begins her whole crusade against all those who failed Nina, pink tick marks pop up on the screen along with the name of the person she’s going to see. Both of these elements are present in both parts of the Kill Bill films, although the color of the text was obviously different. Although Cassie doesn’t physically harm or kill anyone, the very intelligent way she handles those she’s trying to teach a lesson makes her seem like a calculated genius and those scenes seem even more tense. Although it is not shown in full, when Cassie surprises Jerry by showing she is not drunk at the beginning of the film, I honestly thought she was going to harm him physically. So much so in fact that, when we cut to the next scene of her walking down the street barefoot, I thought the red mark on her leg was blood until the camera slowly panned up to show her eating a hot dog. Even when we see her at the end about to cut Al with the scalpel, she doesn’t actually make any contact with his skin.

Pink Tick Marks on screen.

Cassie enacts her revenge on others not with physical violence but with her intellectual prowess. I think this is pretty brilliant because physical scars heal over time, mental scars stay with you forever. What Cassie did to those men she tricked into bringing her home will always stick out in the back of their mind. Those men will always second guess themselves the next time they offer a drunk woman in a bar a ride home and then end up just bringing them to their place for a night cap. This is the mental scarring she wanted to leave those predatory men with while also ensuring that all those involved in Nina’s assault realize that, although much time has passed, they cannot escape the consequences of what they did. Unlike films like Kill Bill and other revenge stories, Promising Young Woman turns the concept on its head with the very slow burn nature of its climax. In stories like this, the protagonist normally exacts revenge on everyone that has wronged them in some heinous way and gets away with it either being fulfilled or unfulfilled but knows that they can finally end their crusade.

Promising Young Woman is very unique in that the protagonist did not directly suffer from some heinous wrongdoing and the revenge she took was not actually for her. Cassie’s best friend Nina Fischer was the one who was sexually assaulted, not believed, dragged in court and eventually ended her life because she could not live with the pain. In the grand scheme of things, Cassie is more of an avenging angel who decided to set into motion a plan that she knew would ensure people were punished but where she would not be able to see it come to fruition. It is very rare we see revenge flicks end like this but I think this is the only real way this film could have ended. Cassie was obviously struggling throughout the film because of what was done to her friend and, once she saw that her best friend’s rapist was not only very successful but also getting married, she knew she had to act. Yes, she was teaching men a terrifyingly intense lesson, but she knew no matter how much she did that it would never make up for the loss she suffered and everything that came after that. This brings me to the last point I want to discuss about this film, which is guilt.

Much like grief, guilt is a very strange emotion. No matter what degree to which you feel it, guilt changes you. Once you are stricken with it, you have to navigate the world as this new changed person and that can be very scary and off putting. Throughout the course of the film it is evident that Cassie feels extreme guilt for what happened to Nina. Nina and Cassie had been best friends since they were kids, something we find out through little bits and pieces in the film. For instance, Cassie keeps a photo of them as kids as her desktop background, she is still close to Nina’s mother and she kept her half heart necklace. With Cassie being so close to Nina it stands to reason that she felt responsible for her. It is not explicitly explained why Cassie was not at the party where Nina was assaulted but she feels as if it was her fault for not being there for her. Once Nina took her life, Cassie dropped out of medical school, moved back into her parent’s house and began working a job that had nothing to do with the medical field. Cassie’s guilt caused her to walk away from a very promising career path because she could not see her succeeding in life without her best friend. Not only this but, in my opinion, I feel as if she believes she did not deserve that kind of life while Nina was robbed of hers in the worst kind of way.

Cassie and Ryan first meet.

Guilt changed Cassie and she could not go back to her old life because the person she was before is not who she is now. I found Cassie’s “hobby” at the beginning of this film very intriguing as it seemed like her way of atoning for her not being there for Nina. Helping to stop what happened to Nina from happening to any other woman by educating potential date rapists, in an incredibly intimidating way I might add, seems like a legacy Cassie wanted to leave behind in honor of her best friend. This legacy turns a bit more intense when Cassie begins her journey of revenge and finds out Al is getting married. She punishes a mutual friend whom Nina disclosed her assault to and was turned away, the dean who did nothing for her and even the defense attorney who slut shamed Nina in court and helped Al get away with his heinous act. But it still wasn’t enough. Cassie has a very telling moment when she visits Nina’s mother, played by Molly Shannon, about midway through the film. Nina is torn between continuing her revenge and trying to see a future with Ryan and Nina’s mother tells her she should just move on. Nina’s mother tells Cassie that, no matter what she does or how guilty she feels, none of it will bring Nina back.

Cassie talks to Nina’s mother (Molly Shannon)

This is when Cassie decides to pause her revenge journey and tries to live a normal life with Ryan. Cassie, at first, seemed reluctant to date him or bring him into her life because of her guilt over Nina, but she eventually lets him in to the point where she introduces him to her parents and friends. I was happy to see Cassie really getting into the idea of having a normal life with a successful boyfriend… until the reveal about Ryan being in the room when Nina was raped. What really sucked about this was that Ryan really seemed like he would be good for Cassie and that she would be good for him. He seemed like a legitimately nice guy but was revealed to be just as bad as every other guy Cassie has been in contact with. It is also very telling that, when Cassie confronts him in his office when she finds out he witnessed Nina’s assault, he goes from being worried about Cassie to some pretty bad name calling when she threatens to release the video. He devolved into his base nature right before our eyes and that just gave Cassie the fuel to carry out her master plan. I believe this heartbreaking revelation, mixed with an even more powerful sense of guilt, lead to Cassie making the ultimate decision to essentially commit suicide by allowing Al to overpower and kill her. When Cassie went to that cabin and took Al upstairs she had no intention of walking out. She knew she had to do this and, in her mind, made things right for Nina by sacrificing herself. I know those watching this movie would probably just want to grab Cassie and tell her what happened to Nina was not her fault but, as I’ve said before, guilt is a weird emotion and it is very powerful. When you feel guilty that emotion takes hold of you and, although others may try to make you feel better, that guilt stays with you and will stay in the back of your mind for what seems like an eternity. Guilt is like a pool of quicksand; trying to get out of it just drags you down more until you completely disappear. This is what I believe happened to Cassie. She was already sinking at the beginning of this film and only sunk down further until she was completely swallowed up.

This film is an absolute masterpiece. I believe its slow burn nature, twist ending and commentary about a very relevant subject in our society worked very well and everyone in it acted flawlessly. Carey Mulligan is a brilliant actress and I thought her calm nature that eventually exploded into a silent rage really helped breathe more life into her character. Specifically, after she visits Dean Walker, Cassie has a moment where she stops her car in the middle of the road and has a very introspective moment where she questions her actions. After a few seconds some guy in a truck honks and yells at her to move her car. Cassie looks at him and he begins to call her names, which prompts her to get out of her car, grab a tire iron and go all Mark McGuire on his windshield. This scene is perfect because, as Cassie is doing this, she does not say a word and handles herself with what I like to call a “psychotic calmness”. This is the kind of acting that Mulligan excels in and helps really give this character her own personality. This scene gives us a clear look into Cassie’s tortured mind and we see her internalized pain and trauma. This scene was absolutely brilliant and I don’t think anyone but Mulligan could have delivered it as perfectly.

Cassie thrashes a man’s truck and stands in the middle of the road.

Everyone in this film did an amazing job and it was nice to see some actors I haven’t seen in a while, like Alfred Molina and Molly Shannon. Although her scene was very brief, Molly Shannon delivers an incredibly heartfelt monologue as she tell’s Mulligan’s character that she has made peace with her daughter’s suicide and that it would be healthy for both of them to just move on. Shannon delivered her lines so perfectly and realistically that I really bought her as a grieving mother that is trying to navigate a world without her daughter in it. The last thing that made this film an absolute masterpiece for me was the message. I’ve already talked at length about the ending and Cassie’s journey but the core message of the film is what really stuck with me, even days after I watched this film. One of the most frustrating outcomes that occur far too often after allegations of sexual assault is not only victim shaming but also the perpetrators suffering virtually no consequences for their actions. In our society we’ve seen men, both young and old, being confronted with heinous acts of their past and told that since the situation is more of a “he said, she said ‘’ and there is not enough hard evidence to convict them they get to walk free. We’ve seen this many a time before but no current example is more relevant, for me at least, than the Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford hearing.

Brett Kavanaugh (Left) Christine Blasey Ford (Right) during the senate confirmation review hearing.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver segment about the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing.

Dr. Ford blew up her entire life to show the world just who Brett Kavanaugh is and what he did to her during their school years and he was STILL confirmed into the supreme court. I usually try not to get too political so I won’t go off on this but simply make a comparison to this hearing and this film. Brett Kavanaugh is a man who has had every possible advantage in life, grew to be very successful and when challenged with the revealing of a heinous act he committed in his past, he not only made it through unscathed but he also got exactly what he wanted out of it. He was confirmed into a lifetime position he can never be removed from. Al Monroe, similar to Brett Kavanaugh, got away with committing sexual assault, became a well respected doctor and is about to get married to a successful young woman. Dr. Ford bravely told her story to the senate and the world knowing she would more than likely get nothing out of it and Nina Fisher went to court to try and get justice but, similar to Dr. Ford, was discredited and did not receive the justice she deserved. Although the outcomes of both events were vastly different, what made Promising Young Woman satisfying in its message was that it solidified the main fact that a lot of us in the real world tend to forget: Nothing stays hidden forever and, although you may escape consequences in the present, they always catch up with you as they were meant to be suffered. Promising Young Woman is an incredibly timely and perfectly shot film that I think both women and men alike should watch.

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Photo by <a href=”https://unsplash.com/@hvranic?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Ivan Vranić</a> on <a href=”https://unsplash.com/s/photos/broken?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>