'Promising Young Woman' Ends With Sly, Gleeful Wink

Olivia Ovenden
·3-min read

From Esquire

This article contains spoilers for Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman, the bodyslam of a revenge thriller starring Carey Mulligan and directed by Emerald Fennel, apportions itself into chapters. By the time we reach the final of these, Cassie's (Mulligan) plan to enact revenge on those who failed her friend Nina after she was raped has slotted into place, as she ticks names off her revenge list.

The film has been hurtling toward its real target: Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), the rapist who was allowed to walk free to travel around the world and is now getting married. "What would you have me do," the university dean who Cassie accosts asks her blithely. "Ruin a young man’s life every time we get an accusation like this?" This idea of the promising young man – which the film's title is a spin on – ignites a fire inside Cassie, which she wants to engulf everyone with, even if it means burning herself to the ground too.

The closing moments of the film see Cassie (who was suffocated by Al on his stag night, just as she was about to inscribe vengeance on him at the end of a tattoo needle), burned on a pyre as he and his bro watch on nervously. Then, with a thud, a package arrives on the doorstep of Al's regretful lawyer, who now has in his hands the breadcrumb trail starting with the video of Nina's rape on Cassie's phone, and leading to the cabin where Cassie died.

Though the film seems ambiguous about whether Cassie meant to sacrifice herself or not – did she really not tighten that handcuff enough to keep Al locked up? – Fennell has said that dying was never Cassie's intention. "The thing for me with Cassie is that she’s absolutely not on a suicide mission," Fennell told Harper's Bazaar. "But she’s wise enough and reckless enough to know that this, whatever happens here, either she’s going to jail or she needs to make a contingency plan."

Fennel went on to outline that Cassie knows what she is walking into. "This is what happens when women try to be violent. It’s why we don’t ever try to be violent. Because it goes wrong. No matter how clever she is, no matter how meticulously planned it is, it’s very, very difficult to physically fight a man if you’re a small young woman, or any woman really. So part of it for me was just the reality of the situation."

Photo credit: Focus Features
Photo credit: Focus Features

Perhaps the story would be more dramatic and twisty if Cassie spilled to the audience how she had set Al up with faulty handcuffs knowing that he would be able to break free, but the point which the ending subtly makes is how Cassie loses control of her fate when she walks into that house. The back-up plan she leaves is proof that, like the women who text their friends their whereabouts when walking home alone in the dark, she has an innate fear of what might happen to her.

At Al's wedding, while the keening of sirens draws nearer, Cassie's voice returns via pre-scheduled text messages to remind her ex, Ryan (Bo Burnham), that he and his friends haven't got away with it this time. In giving Cassie the final word – albeit from beyond the grave – Promising Young Woman's ending underscores Cassie's desperation for revenge, as well as skewering the how we expect a rape-revenge thriller to climax. Cassie is gleeful in her own death, so long as it means justice for those accountable.

It's a wink to the audience, quite literally, as the final message reads:

Love, Cassie & Nina

😉

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