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Promising Young Woman (2021)


Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra, a med school dropout seeking revenge for Nina’s, her best friend, suicide. Cassandra and Nina were both promising young women until Nina was raped by a classmate and the school decided there was not enough evidence to punish the male rapist. Cassandra’s method of revenge is to go out to bars alone, pretend to be black-out drunk, get picked up and go home with men. Once alone with the men, they inevitably cross a line, and she immediately snaps back to her sober self. The movie repeats this situation a half dozen times as it is Cassandra’s main objective in life. She lives at home with her parents and works at a coffee shop.

Cassandra celebrates her 30th birthday in the film and dates classmate Ryan, Bo Burnham, who is a pediatric surgeon. The rape took place seven years before the film. I have some trouble with the timeline being keenly aware of how long medical school, residency, and a pediatric surgery fellowship takes. The years passing is less important than the age of everyone involved in the rape, early to mid-twenties.

The film confronts a lot of tough subjects. It is a great movie for young men to watch. We all think we are ‘the good guy.’ If we saw a vulnerable woman in the bar, not in control of herself, we would make sure she got home safely. As the movie shows, this is seldom how that goes. A knight in shining armor deserves a reward, right? Women will view these scenes and have numerous examples of aspects of these pickups they have experienced. This movie can be a great place to start a dialogue about what you should do in these situations. Should you call a cab and leave someone vulnerable in a cab with a stranger? Should you escort the person home and leave once they are safely in their home alone? Should you get the bartender or security involved and trust that they will take care of the person? Should you imagine that the person is consenting to something they clearly cannot consent to? The answer to the last question is no, but is there a clear answer to the ones before it?

Cassandra has disrupted her entire life because of the loss of her friend. She dropped out of med school to take care of Nina, who also dropped out. Once Nina took her own life, Cassandra still refused to return to society and started her revenge plan. The movie follows Cassandra’s final plan to get back at the person that raped Nina. Cassandra is carrying Nina’s burden far longer than anyone should. Both Cassandra's parents and Nina’s mother recognize this and try to get Cassandra to move on with her own life. We all carry someone else’s burden to an extent, but we should examine how much it affects our day-to-day lives. You can’t live someone else’s life for them, but you can show compassion, be an ally, or advocate for change because of something happening to a friend. While the men Cassandra picks up have moveable lines, they are willing to cross and turn from a good guy into criminals, Cassandra does not have boundaries for her own life. She is willing to continue to go further and further in the name of Nina, yet nothing will bring Nina back.

I did not like the movie’s ending, it felt unbalanced and lessened the impact of the film. The lengths that Cassandra was willing to go end up costing her more than they gain Nina’s legacy. Cassandra needed help dealing with her grief, but she never got it. Her inability to make logical decisions do not enhance the message that good guys can turn bad when sex is involved. It also does not help right the wrongs in the justice system. The film’s title is influenced by the case of Brock Turner.

This film was powerful. It held a mirror up that made me question what my decision-making would be in certain situations. It is also a film about grief and the various ways people carry it with them. The ending of the film does hurt it a little bit. I always want the side of good to triumph in a film and instead, I got a mixed bag that weakened some of the film's central arguments. Maybe the ending won’t be as disruptive for you. Everyone should see this film with those close to them and then take some time to discuss it afterward.

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