RogerBW's Blog

Promising Young Woman 25 July 2023

2020 drama, dir. Emerald Fennell, Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham: IMDb / allmovie. When she was a medical student, her friend was raped, and killed herself after nobody believed her. She's going to stop that happening again.

Rape and revenge, of course, has been done. But this film manages to make it a bit more complex: for all that the trailers try to make it look like an erotic thriller with a murderous heroine, it's rather more subtle than that. What Cassie is doing is getting dolled up, going out to a club, looking as though she's falling-down drunk, waiting for a good samaritan to offer to take her home and instead start trying to take advantage of her, and then put a scare into him.

(There's no shortage of these rapey good samaritans. I know "all men are rapists" has become a cliché of feminism, but the point is still a good one: as far as potential victims are concerned, any man could suddenly reveal this tendency, so they always have to be on their guard. I'm pretty sure that none of the men depicted here thinks of himself as a rapist or as a witness to rape, because after all there was no screaming and struggling. Is it a Message Film? No, it's a film with a message.)

Even more interesting, to me, is the depiction of Cassie's own mental state. She's dedicated everything to this quest for revenge, and she doesn't realise just how much that was and how much it's continuing to damage her. When an old friend shows up and seems interested in starting a relationship, she goes for it; for me, the best sequence in the film was a rom-com-style "doing fun stuff together" montage, during which we the audience can see clearly how broken this person is.

Because this is a story that cannot end well. Even if it were just a quest to deal with the people involved in the original attack, even if it all went perfectly, Cassie would still be the person who'd done those things, and while she clearly thinks she could drop back into a normal life we can see that this isn't the case. It's the best sort of tragedy, the sort in which one desperately hopes that fate can be turned aside… but it can't.

Withoout going into spoiler territory, Fennell (screnwriter as well as director) originally planned to end the film at the bonfire scene, but the producers interfered. I'm glad they did; the result is much better, and more in keeping with the characters as we've come to know them.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:52pm on 25 July 2023

    I generally find falling down drunk women uninteresting. Why would I want to take advantage of them? It wouldn't be any actual fun and the chances of a second "date" would be remote in the extreme.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 03:33pm on 25 July 2023

    Well, congratulations, you're not thinking like a rapist.

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