Promising Young Woman is the first film we watched in 2021. It was a great kickoff to what we hope are many more great films, but we have notes for reviewers. Spoilers ahead.
I start first with this excerpt from Vulture’s review of it:
“But Cassie’s romance also sets Promising Young Woman up for a big finish that has to contend with the complicated question it’s been skirting all along — one of reconciliation versus retribution, and whether there’s any benefit to holding fast to rage forever, no matter how warranted. It’s a question that’s impossible to answer broadly, but the specific conclusion for which the movie opts is both profoundly upsetting and apparently intended to provoke applause. Fennell’s film is a vibrant, stylistically precise piece of work, but the sentiments it conveys don’t feel examined. It’s an acceleration off a cliff when what you’d really like to see is some kind of road forward, no matter how rough.”
I will admit that Cassie’s death turned the “dark comedy” into an unexpected, horrific allegory of some sort. But it was not undermined by this. In fact, I argue it was what had been promised throughout the whole film. I did see a “road forward,” actually, by Cassie’s forgiveness of Alfred Molina’s lawyer character. She granted him a way to set his wrongs right and he immediately asked for her forgiveness. You don’t see that a lot in stories like these. It was the kind of forgiveness I had hoped BoJack would be allowed in the Netflix series BoJack Horseman, but that show’s end left me a bit unsatisfied in terms of seeing justice or forgiveness for him. Not that Promising Young Woman is at all comforting, but it offers something a bit stronger.
– It is of course true that some do not heal from trauma. And do recognize the kind of trauma I mean–the trauma of losing a best friend. This film is not just about Cassie seeking revenge. It is about her dealing with her grief.
– Cassie is missing her other half, represented by half the friendship locket. She will never be whole again until her own body, wearing Nina’s half, is found.
– Cassie is sometimes framed as a saint-like figure in the film, righteous in her crusade. We see her as if she has a halo here, for example:
But these are red herrings. They distract from the Christ-like poses elsewhere that were at first lost on me:
– All of the sugar-coated colors and the amusing soundtrack are distractions from the ultimate sacrifice she is willing to make.
– Her love for her friend perhaps turns her into her friend, thus why she wears Nina’s half of the locket when she is murdered. Perhaps similar to a theme in Alias Grace, the dead possesses her to enact revenge. Cassie is a willing vessel for that revenge because she misses her friend so much and it is all she has left of her.
– Allison Willmore’s Vulture review says Cassie’s death/willingness to die is like “an acceleration off a cliff when what you’d really like to see is some kind of road forward, no matter how rough.” This made me wonder if Thelma & Louise had similar critiques back in the day when they drove off a literal cliff instead of continuing to live in the male dominated world that would never be home to them. What Thelma & Louise did to the buddy road film, Promising Young Woman might do to the dark comedy–or whatever genre it is that I haven’t pinned down yet. Throughout the whole film I thought there was going to be more gore and horror. Like this video essay breaks down, I also see Cassie as a single combination of the Whore and Madonna:
UPDATED AFTER PUBLICATION——————————————————
“Today’s fantasy writers feel as though the fictional worlds they create have to be full-scale working models. People talk a lot about the ecology of [George R. R. Martin’s] Westeros, for instance—how do the seasons work? What are the climate patterns? How does it function as an ecosphere? You have to think about the economy, too—have I got a working feudal model? It’s gotten so extreme that when characters do magic, it’s very common to see fantasy writers talk about thermodynamics—okay, he’s lighting a candle with magic, can he draw the heat from somewhere else in the room so that equilibrium gets preserved?
This is the school of thought that extends from Tolkien, and his scrupulously-crafted Middle Earth. Lewis was of a different school from that. Magic, to him, was a much wilder, stranger thing. It was much less domesticated. And when I re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I feel as though we’ve wandered too far from the true magic, the kind Lewis wrote. Maybe we want to worry less about thermodynamics and work harder to get that sense of wonder he achieves with such apparent effortlessness.”
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]