“Promising Young Woman,” released on Dec. 25 2020, (recently nominated for Academy Awards Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing) follows a 30 year old medical school dropouts’ heart wrenching revenge journey. Cassandra Thomas (played by actress Carey Mulligan) spends her nights at bars luring men with a masterful performance of a drunk “easy” woman waiting to be picked up and taken to an apartment. And, not surprisingly, every week she is brought home by man after man just waiting to take advantage of a helpless woman. Little do they know- it’s all an act.
But why is Mulligan tricking these innocent men? It starts with the suicide of her beloved college best friend, Nina, after she was raped by med-school student Al Monroe (played by Chris Lowell) on tape and in front of other students at a college party. The humilation and torture this brought on Nina after the accusation and dismissal of the sexual assault reflects so much of what (now statistically proven by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women) 97% of woman ages 18 to 24 have had to deal with in some way.
Now, with her best friend dead, Cassandra spends the passing years dedicated to vengeance on any man willing to manipulate vulnerable women. Every man after the other used the same excuse- “I’m a good guy, I would never do such a thing,” “You were asking for it,” “We were both drunk.” Even after begging to go home or pleading to stop, every man didn’t listen until they realized she was sober. Only then, when they realized she wasn’t as vulnerable as she seemed, did they stop and beg for forgiveness. Only then did they show sympathy for their actions and insist that they would never try to manipulate a woman.
As the film progresses, it only moves deeper into the psychological issues that resulted from the rape and suicide of Nina. It is so difficult to weigh the good from the bad or the right from the wrong in this film. At first, you feel completely behind Cassandras’ actions. But is she just crazy? The answer is yes- but is it valid? The answer is also yes. Because it is a thriller and make-believe, it makes it easier to agree with her crazy revenge. There comes a point where you ask yourself if she has gone too far; if she needs to move on and accept what had happened. But, at the end you walk away stunned at the unimaginable things a man can do to an innocent woman and absolutely on board with her extreme acts of revenge.
Some watchers may only see this film from a surface level perspective: a funny comedy/thriller that follows the story of an insane feminist. Though, from a serious perspective, this film digs deeper than that following a story that should warn woman and men to the true reality of sexual assault. It is a serious subject that “Promising Young Woman” shines a light on and perfectly captures the harsh reality of sexual assault and rape culture.
New research on sexual assault statistics recently came out exposing that 97% of woman have experienced some sort of harassment in their life. Frankly, I am not surprised by that number regardless of how large it looks. Sadly, every woman I know, including very young girls and myself, has a story to tell from when they felt uncomfortable, scared or assaulted by a man in public or private. But alas, “boys will be boys.” This shouldn’t be a risky or taboo topic to discuss in today’s society. It’s real and statistically happens to nearly all of us. It is not because of the way we dress, because we are under the influence, because we avoided saying no or because we are in a relationship- it is because of rapists.
Whether this film is a comedy or not, it opens up a serious conversation. It takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as you follow a woman just looking for closure while the whole world finds her “unstable” and “lunatic.” This is a clear reflection of how sexual assault can affect a person’s mental health and those around them trying to love and support them.
Aside from the deep messages in this film, it’s also a very entertaining comedy/thriller keeping you on your toes at all times. Not to mention, the cinematography perfectly captures the mood of each scene. You can see the effort Director Emerald Fennell put into the little details of each scene to make for a beautiful film. The play with lights and color, angled shots and symmetry captures the viewers attention with seemingly little effort. It is so fascinating how a film can use aesthetics and imagery to appeal to watchers’ subconscious emotions.
“Promising Young Woman” is most deserving of every Academy Award Nomination. The film goes above and beyond to address a topic as serious as sexual assault in such an urgent yet intriguing and entertaining way. Lead actress Carey Mulligan flawlessly portrayed such a difficult character that made you feel so many different emotions in a two hour period. I walked away from “Promising Young Woman” feeling overwhelmed, shocked and sorrowful for the women that have to struggle through life with the weight of sexual assault on their shoulders. The consequences of rape aren’t really left for the rapist, but for the victim and “Promising Young Woman” illustrates that struggle to perfection.