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Film Critique: “Promising Young Woman” Essay

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Updated: Aug 21st, 2022

Films are a popular source of entertainment as they provide viewers with an opportunity to rest and cope with the stresses of everyday life. However, they are also a serious art form that seeks to comment on society and its faults and help people reflect on their lives, the struggles of others, and the culture they are a part of. For this assignment, I have selected Emerald Ferrall’s Promising Young Woman for review and critique.

The film Promising Young Woman revolves around the protagonist Cassandra Thomas, also known as Cassie, who wants to avenge her best friend Nina’s sexual assault that happened years earlier. Cassie spends her evenings pretending to be drunk at bars picking up men only to reveal to them later that she is not, in fact, intoxicated and show them their true nature. She meticulously tracks every person involved in Nina’s case being dismissed to hold a mirror to their past behaviors, with few of them showing genuine remorse. As she finally finds video evidence needed to convict Nina’s rapist, Al, she pretends to be a stripper at his bachelor party, where she is smothered to death by him after confronting him. Her body is burnt by Al and his best friend, Joe, but Cassie’s contingency plan of the video of the rape being delivered to the police ensures Al is arrested at his wedding.

I believe the film is an incredible artwork that exposes the systemic injustice and the culture that protects men and the view that women as disposable. The very title itself, Promising Young Woman, is a mockery of the defense line for men as rapists are often portrayed as promising young men whose lives are being destroyed because of one mistake. In my opinion, the title was deliberately selected to remind the viewers that victims of sexual assault are also promising young people whose lives are forever affected but who, unfortunately, are not defended by society.

One of the most crucial subplots of the movie is Cassie’s relationship with Ryan, her boyfriend, and classmate, who was present at Nina’s assault. After Cassie learns of his involvement via the video given to her by another classmate, Madison, he proclaims his innocence as he was only a bystander. However, Ryan is the product of the same misogynistic culture that allowed Al to get away with the assault. I think it is exceptionally poignant that at the beginning of the movie Ryan continues to pursue Cassie after she refused him several times. It is the culture of misogyny that promotes and romanticizes the pursuit of women regardless of their feelings. Ryan is selfish to the point of stating he cannot live with the knowledge of the video or Nina’s rape existing because of how it can affect him and his medical practice. It is one of the most outstanding merits of the film that shows the subtle selfishness and self-centredness of men who care about their lives and reputation more about women’s lives.

The scene that stuck with me the most after watching the film was Joe telling Al that he did nothing wrong while sitting in the bed where Cassie’s body still lies. It is yet another skillful depiction of the sexist culture where women are viewed as inferior to men. If women and men are not equal in the eyes of society, their harassment, assault, and murder are not considered with the same gravity as the harassment, assault, and murder of men. Joe and Al do not believe Cassie and Nina deserve the same respect and recognition, so they do not consider their actions wrong. They view potential repercussions as an unfair disruption of their lives. That is why Nina is further harassed after her assault to drop the lawsuit, and Cassie’s body is burnt and hidden. Overall, Promising Young Woman does not depict a rape-revenge fantasy but a bleak view of society that perpetuates the culture of victim-blaming and protects offenders by appealing to their promises. The film’s merit lies in asking why the promise of men matters more than the promise of women.

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