‘Promising Young Woman’: Understanding the bizarre ending
Creating nothing short of an uproar around the web with its unexpected ending, Promising Young Woman is a newly released dark thriller (and just barely a comedy too.) While the film covers bits of hopefulness, emotional-vigilante revenge, and female empowerment – the pragmatic perspective instead of a Hollywood-ized version of reality adds much to the dark ending.
Before getting into the deeper meaning of Promising Young Woman, we caution the readers for major spoilers ahead with mentions of sexual assault & suicide.
Promising Young Woman is about the story of Cassie, played by Carrie Mulligan, who adapts a vigilante-like lifestyle where she spends her days working as a cashier and her nights in bars & clubs – teaching “nice guys” that they’re, in fact, not as nice as they claim to be.
Cassie suffers from a mix of trauma and survivor’s guilt since her best friend, Nina was sexually assaulted in med school and later, presumed to have died by committing suicide.
In the wake of events that happened to Nina, Cassie can’t let go of the blatant dismissal by everyone and while holding onto her personal vengeance, she takes one for the entirety of the wronged-female population and throws a big fat middle finger to deep-seated patriarchy.
Every night, Cassie pretends to be near pass out-drunk and dangles herself as a metaphorical bone in front of dog-like men who take advantage of women in that state. However, revenge in Promising Young Woman is barely in the form of classic violence, instead it invokes a jarring self-reflection in the almost-attackers and their predatory nature.
One of the lines that captures the essence of Promising Young Woman goes like this: “You woke me up before putting your fingers inside me,” Cassie snarks before continuing, “that was sweet.”
The finale of Promising Young Woman ends with Cassie’s life smothered out of her by Al, Nina’s rapist but not before a blend of confrontation & threat between the two. Cassie’s elaborate plan for revenge on Nina’s assaulter includes leaving a trail of evidence for the cops to find her whereabouts in the event of her disappearance & trick Al into a compromising state.
Yet, Cassie’s death proves to be ironic as Al gets arrested for murder charges instead of sexual assault charges for Nina as Cassie originally hoped for. Cassie’s unexpected death in the film sparked debate online. While everyone agrees the film’s ending is unsatisfying, some argued the conclusion was for the better including the debut director of the film, Emerald Fennell.
“I had to be honest,” Fennell told EW. “It’s how the system works. [. . .] For me, it would be an enormous injustice to be so honest the whole way through this movie and then have a Hollywood ending that also let us all off the hook.”
In contrast, other netizens & sexual-assault survivors exclaimed their frustration behind typical violent endings in revenge-driven films, revealing the pattern of depressive & traumatic storytelling. As a Polygon’s correspondent stated, “When do [survivors] get to see a better world, one where people living with trauma get to heal, fall in love, seek justice, or just plain live?”
Against all aughts
Although there’s strong back & forth on Promising Young Woman and its perplexing ending, many laud Fennell’s refreshingly clever & twisted plot which focuses on the victim’s trauma rather than the offender’s punishment.
Promising Young Woman covers the full story and overcomes problematic narratives prevalent in aughts’ era cult classics like the reactions of straight white women to sexual assault (in short, slutshaming & victim-blaming) and their blind-faith in institutions & systems are elucidated. Particularly in the film, “both the institutions of the faithful wife and motherhood get weaponized against these women”, according to Buzzfeed.
The soundtracks of Promising Young Woman throws punches at the aughts’ era with a darkened version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and a rendition of Paris Hilton’s lone hit, “Stars Are Blind”.
Promising Young Woman explores toxic narratives, feminism, inherent patriarchy, and more but also asks the haunting question: if protection & justice for cis white women is this difficult, what about the minorities out there? The phenomenal film instantly became a high-rated release with 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and 72% on Metacritic. So, is the ending worth it? We’ll let you decide.