Review of “Promising Young Woman”
Trigger warning: This article mentions rape, sexual violence, death, depression, and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
“Promising Young Woman” is a movie that was released recently to rent on streaming services. It is about a young woman who seeks revenge several years after her best friend was raped. It is a timely movie to add to the #MeToo movement about the devastating effects that can impact victims of rape and the injustice that survivors often face. The soundtrack to the movie was well-chosen, as well as the dialogue between the characters. Spoilers ahead!
Carey Mulligan, who plays Cassie Thomas, goes to bars and clubs and pretends that she is blackout drunk, and therefore incapable of consent. Every time, a man approaches her and asks if she is alright. She then acts like she is too drunk to stand, and the man takes her back to his home. He then begins to undress her, while Cassie is nearing the end of consciousness. The acting makes it very clear that Cassie is unable to consent. In conversations in real life, people often question victims’ clarity of the moment, but in this scene, Mulligan’s acting makes it painfully clear that she can hardly sit up straight. Cassie snaps out of it and reveals that she is sober and then begins to question why the man would try to have sex with someone who could not consent.
Frightened, the men reply that they are “A nice guy,” and would not rape someone. In reality, the opposite is true, and this defense that men try to claim is often one that happens in real life. There are common occurances where men rape women who are too drunk to realize what is happening, and this happens on college campuses as well. Cassie does this to have the men realize that what they are doing is wrong, and to scare them into (hopefully) not committing the same crime again. In this, she avenges her friend who was raped by a man who assaulted her when she was unconscious. Some may view this as a twisted way to deal with trauma, but I believe that it is clever and almost like a social experiment.
Due to her traumatic experience, Cassie’s friend Nina dropped out of medical school, and Cassie did as well to help take care of her. Nina later died by suicide. Unfortunately, these are common experiences in real life. Survivors often do not face justice, and their cases are often settled through monetary means outside of court. Survivors often develop mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Cassie asks a former friend from medical school, Madison, to lunch. Madison did not believe that Nina had been raped, and Cassie intentionally gets Madison drunk and sends her off with a man to a hotel room. Madison calls Cassie, distraught over the situation and not remembering what occurred, and then starts to believe that what happened to Nina may have happened. In my opinion, it was morally wrong for Cassie to set up a situation where a man could sexually assault Madison.
Next on Cassie’s revenge list is the medical school dean, Elizabeth Walker, who granted innocence to Nina’s rapist. Cassie manipulates the dean’s daughter into agreeing to get into her car and wait at a cafe to meet her favorite band, which is a lie
Cassie told her. Cassie also manipulates the dean into thinking that she dropped off her daughter at a random room full of drunk men at the university, in which the dean breaks down and apologizes for the way that she handled Nina’s case. In these two scenes, it is difficult to watch these women deny Nina’s experience to be true. Both Madison and the dean make excuses for the rapist and fail to see how they could have helped Nina. Sadly, this is a common experience of survivors of rape, and the aquaintences that knew of the rape may only apologize years after the trauma has damaged the person. Rapists are often serial rapists, meaning that they rape many women before experiencing negative consequences.
During this time, Cassie is working at a coffee shop, in which a customer comes in who happens to have been a former classmate of Cassie. He, Ryan Cooper, asks her out, and they have a great time dating until he catches her on one of her nights where she feigns drunkenness at bars. Cassie finds it hard to explain herself, but he gives her another chance.
Next on Cassie’s list is the lawyer, Jordan Green, who bullied Nina into dropping charges against her rapist. The lawyer expresses deep guilt over it, and Cassie forgives him. If I had been in that situation, it would have been hard for me to have immediately forgiven him. It probably would have taken some time or for the lawyer to do something that helped victims of rape for me to believe that he truly does feel guilty for his past actions.
Cassie visits Nina’s mother, who urges her to move on. Just when she is about to, Madison unexpectedly shows up at her door and confesses that she possesses the phone in which Nina’s rape was recorded. She does not apologize, and she warns
Cassie to never contact her again. In a painful scene, Cassie watches the video and is horrified to see that her boyfriend was a bystander in the video. She confronts him and demands that he tells her where the rapist’s bachelor’s party is being held, and threatens to send the video to everyone that he knows. Even when there is clear evidence of her boyfriend’s lack of intervention, he claims that he did not do anything wrong. Another thing that is true of people’s reactions in real life.
Cassie disguises herself as a stripper to gain access to the rapist’s bachelor party, in which she convinces the groom (the rapist) to go upstairs alone with him. She then reveals her identity as Nina’s best friend and tells him how Nina never felt clean after he raped her, and felt his name all over her body. Cassie then attempts to carve Nina’s name into the rapist’s chest, in which he gains control over her and suffocates her to death. A friend of his finds him the next morning, still in the bed with Cassie dead, and his first reaction is to assure him that he did nothing wrong. This type of loyalty even in the face of a crime is probably one of the things in which the rapist felt it was acceptable to rape someone. This sense of entitlement is true in real life of many rapists.
They burn Cassie in a distant field, and it appears that Cassie has been defeated. At the wedding, things seem pleasant until it is revealed that Cassie predicted that he would kill her and has sent the phone (with evidence of the rape) to the lawyer, and pre-planned text messages to her former boyfriend that sarcastically ask him if he’s having a good time at the wedding. It is implied that the men who were guilty are sentenced to jail time.
This movie was very intense and at times, difficult to watch, but I recommend that people watch it if they can handle viewing sexual violence. It highlights some of the details surrounding rape and taking rapists to trial that are true in everyday American life. Victim-blaming is discussed in the movie, as well as attitudes about being intoxicated and the role of bystanders. Mental health problems are a real experience that many survivors develop after being raped. Suicide is less common, but suicidal thoughts are not. More than 90% of survivors of rape develop post-traumatic stress disorder after the rape, and over 30% of women who were raped experience suicidal thoughts, and more than 10% of women who have been raped attempt suicide. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men have been raped in their lifetime. College-aged women are three times more likely to be raped compared to women who are not in college. 20% of transgender people have been raped in their lifetime, and close to 40% of LGBT+ people are raped in their lifetime. For every 230 rape cases reported, only about 5 rapists will spend any time in jail. These problems are very serious issues in this country, and I am glad that this movie showed something you don’t often hear about in sexual assault cases: revenge.