Film & Water #177 – Promising Young Woman


Episode 177 - Promising Young Woman

Rob is joined by returning guest sex educator Kim Cavill to discuss the 2020 comedy/drama/thriller PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, starring Carey Mulligan.

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4 responses to “Film & Water #177 – Promising Young Woman

  1. Two sides to the doling out of injustice and unsuitable sentencing.

    The privileged proven perpetrators getting away with a meaningless sentence, because they just have to be allowed to keep living in luxury and maintain their status. Being in trial and having mean things said about them was punishment enough, etc.

    Then there are the poor, severely underprivileged people, who might not even get to have a trial for years, while they’re kept in prison because they’re deemed to not deserve any better. Those who can’t afford justice, they get a lawyer who tells them that the best they can hope for is a plea deal, regardless of what they’ve done. People who’ve been found innocent after decades in prison, don’t get anything in any way close to meaningful compensation.

    That’s probably not within the scope of this movie, though.

  2. Great episode and great discussion. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I listened to the show because I’ve already had the ending spoiled (“Thanks, Bill Maher, you fuckwad!”). I remember hearing about this movie what seems like a long time ago and then nothing until it popped up on radars again for award season. I can’t wait to see it; especially the scene with Connie Britton as the college dean; that scene looks riveting.

  3. Rob,

    Finally, I got around to watching this magnificent film last night and then I listened to this episode this morning. So many thoughts about both the film and your discussion with Kim. For now, I think I’ll focus on the ending.

    I came out of the film with essentially two views of the ending, and both views hinge on how one interprets the motivations for Cassie’s actions after she receives the video of Nina’s rape.

    Take #1: Cassie has the option to take the video to the police as proof that Nina was sexually assaulted and finally bring Al to justice. This, of course, assumes that there would still be a criminal case to pursue in that the crime occurred in a state that didn’t have a short statute of limitations on rape charges. Sadly, many states do. However, assuming that Cassie has the option via the video to bring Al to justice, then her actions leading up to her death take on a very different meaning than her actions in the earlier parts of the film. Suddenly, her actions become about revenge, not justice, and that leads to her demise.

    This is supported by several key elements of the film. The first being that her actions in the first two-thirds of the film are clearly about seeking justice. She’s making people confront their own culpability for their actions, and she is like some condemning angel making them confront the truth. To that end, she miraculously avoids harm or serious repercussions for her actions as though she is somehow protected by her own pursuit of justice. Her avoidance of any serious harm or confrontations, particularly with the men she traps, almost pushes the limits of suspension of disbelief to the point that one has to wonder whether or not the viewer is meant to see Cassie as somewhat invincible, like a modern-day Joan of Arc.

    But, once her motivations become about revenge, she then becomes subject to serious harm. She decides to go to the bachelor party instead of going to the police and after she finds out her boyfriend was present at the sexual assault. Her actions also become directly violent for the first time: she drugs the whole bachelor party and she plans to carve Nina’s name on Al’s body. This is a huge escalation from what she had done previously in the film.

    On some level, Cassie must have realized that her choices could and probably would lead to her death, which is why she sends the phone and note to the lawyer leading to Al’s arrest at the end of the film.

    All of this is punctuated by the fact that the victim of the assault, Nina, never actually has a voice in the film. This isn’t her story but rather the story of someone who is acting on her behalf, to give her the justice she was denied. As soon as Cassie’s actions move away from justice and towards straight-up revenge, then Cassie becomes the victim.

    Take #2: Cassie does not have the option to turn the video over to the police because the case can no longer be criminally pursued. This assumes that the crime took place in a state where the statute of limitations had run out. Given this irrefutable proof with the revelation that the man she loves was culpable in the assault AND having no legal recourse to pursue, Cassie decides to sacrifice herself to bring Al and his cronies to some measure of justice.

    Her actions of mailing the evidence and the note beforehand would speak to this intent along with all the Christ and angel imagery that is associated with Cassie throughout the film, suggesting perhaps that she has to sacrifice herself for justice as Christ had to be sacrificed for salvation. There is also the fact that the arresting police officer says that Al is under arrest for murder, not rape. This would indicate that direct accountability for what happened to Nina is no longer a possibility in the legal system even with a video of the assault as proof.

    The one fly in the ointment with this take is that it isn’t clear just how Cassie could have orchestrated her own death. How could she possibly plan for Al to break free from his handcuffs and then strangle her to death? She was a meticulous planner, so perhaps she set it up so that the one handcuff could break. That’s a leap for sure, and not one I can readily buy into given that I don’t see evidence in the film of it. But, I could see it as something Cassie would definitely plan for given how well she put together all her other traps.

    Either take though fits into what you said, Rob, there is no happy ending to this story. There’s no victory to celebrate. The tragedy of the story is that the characters are operating within a system that protects predators and further victimizes victims of violent crimes.

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