Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman

not even coherent enough to trigger me, which is a bad joke at my expense but primarily an insult. pyw amounts to a series of “facts” the film finds self evident, or they would be if they weren’t communicated through this fantasy world constructed within the narrative that seems to be continuously gaslighting itself. this is perhaps why so many feel obligated to “expose” the films true violence, not as much to one another but to the voice of the film itself—what is actually communicated overall throughout pyw increasingly undermines whatever basic comprehension of autonomy or human rights the film claims to understand. like most movies about women, it appears to be driven by a fear of actually engaging with anything concerning real, living women. Living women...this is not the reality that exists in the film. the reality of the film is this: men do not understand the ways in which they continuously oppress and traumatize women, nor do they particularly care to comprehend their role in benefitting from it—it simply does not exist in their world. they do not see it that way. women, however, are ultimately responsible for staying vigilant in order to protect themselves from inevitable destruction, which means educating men, and sacrificing oneself in order to prove a point (to whom? maybe other men, who upon observing the arrest of some of their brethren will then think twice about recording their next assault). the reality of the film is that the police exist as an institution to uphold the rights of white women to move up in class by becoming doctors for example, or college deans.

i can understand the disappointment many have expressed that pyw is not what they thought, what they wanted, or what was advertised; a cathartic revenge thriller for the me too era. personally as someone who has experienced sexual assault, there is no satisfaction in seeing fictional assailants die at the hands of their fictional victims. to kill ur assailant is to effectively let them off the hook by refusing to acknowledge that this is a human being who chose to violate another human being, which is probably why r. revenge films are so popular amongst carceral feminists. what these stories insist on (to me) are certain truths r. culture would like for us to believe in—that there is no catharsis possible for victims, no equal act that can make the assailant understand the gravity of what they’ve done, no chance of reformation of these monsters who irl should surely be incarcerated for the rest of their lives if not dead (except for the rich ones). in my opinion, r. revenge films are rarely made for people who have experienced sexual assault, rather insisting on ideas about gender, social power, justice etc that work to further silence actual victims. but i digress

(in another universe, there is a version of this film that leans fully into exploitation as a genre instead of defanging the “liberatory” violence of the r. revenge film in favor of neon poptimism; a slick, john wick style ultra vengeance movie wherein cassie could stage elaborate kills while miraculously evading destruction herself; just as bad as the real film, for very much the same reasons) (on a side note, pyw makes a perfect pair with the actual john wick ripoff, nobody, another film that posits the only good guys as the ones protecting white mens property including women & children. of course, which men constitute as good guys & whose property is worth protecting falls to the discretion of such trusted institutions as the fbi, local law enforcement, christopher lloyd etc)

perhaps the worst act of cruelty committed in the film is its very unimagination—both when it comes to addressing the issues at hand, as well as the aesthetics/cinematic properties utilized to discuss these issues. on one hand, it admits society’s failure at every level of every institution to address sexual violence much less work to prevent it. actually it does more than that. it incessantly states the facts of these failures with the flatness of a hashtag me too instagram infographic slideshow (& with the same emptied pop aesthetics; & with the same unproductiveness). on the other hand, these facts are presented by characters who exist in an insane fantasy world jarringly at odds with any concept of the reality of r. culture. for example, there are two black characters in the film, one of which is also a trans woman who owns a coffee shop and gives advice to cassie as she continues to survive the dangerous situations she puts herself in because she is white and cisgender. when she “tricks” her dates, she is never met with the violent, obliterating rage some women incite in men by virtue of simply existing—once these men are caught in the act of attempting sexual assault, they express a mixture of embarrassment, disappointment, annoyance...they regret bringing her home not only because they were unsuccessful in taking advantage of her but also because they got nagged. i do not fault pyw for failing to engage in an intersectional sexual politics wherein gail’s experiences are acknowledged, precisely because the film outright refuses to engage with the experiences of sexual assault victims point blank period. what i do fault the film for is writing gail as a character who does not function in the film for any reason other than to check off boxes for woke topical diversity points, while simultaneously referencing the chanel miller case in its title and evoking the me too movement started by tarana burke. (as a side note, the other black character in pyw is played by sam richardson who seemed to be acting in a different movie, and is [as a result?] the best part of this movie)

here’s another: we are repeatedly told about the erasure and abuse victims of sexual assault are submitted to, yet what we are shown in the film is in fact the active and ongoing suppression of those very voices in its narrative and its too bright, too prettified appearance. pyw is not a film about sexual assault. cassie is not someone who has experienced sexual assault, instead compulsively placing herself in proximity to sexual assault solely for the purpose of “exposing” men for something they clearly are not ashamed to repeatedly attempt. the film seems to be undecided on what this exactly means. the dialogue is clearly meant to be sardonic, a cathartic giving-voice to the voiceless, a positive spin on an all too familiar scenario, and this is supported by mulligans performance—it is the result, or lack thereof that undermines this repetitive “twist.” nothing happens when cassie scolds the endless stream of men she is able to effectively lecture & leave without harm; nothing happens when she leads one woman to believe she was sexually assaulted, and another to believe her daughter was sexually assaulted (as if to say these are equal punishments for mocking and dismissing victims of sexual assault); nothing happens except that the audience witnesses it. these unproductive attempts to rectify societys wrongs culminate in a plan that only makes sense according to the narrative’s own logic if we believe our heroine was hoping to die in order to incarcerate two of the men who assaulted nina not for that, but for murdering herself. the question becomes, if this fatalist figuring of the true banality of misogynistic violence is in fact the film’s whole point, to what end? who does this help? cassie’s actions certainly do nothing to help her heal from the trauma of witnessing the trauma of sexual assault—because r. culture allows no space for victims to recover or even contend with what has happened to them? or because the script was rushed? none of the characters who participate in or excuse sexual assault are shown reconsidering or regretting their choices, except for al’s former defense lawyer (who cassie was apparently planning to kill if he didnt what, cry? society is better now because this guy cried?)—because those who benefit from r. culture will never relinquish their privileges as they are so closely tied to other luxuries such as whiteness, able-bodiedness, cisness? or because the characters are underdeveloped? nina is dead before the film begins, unable to speak on what happened to her and everything that came after—because society would rather see a woman dead if not complacent with her abuse and subjugation? or because the filmmakers were unequipped to even imagine what she might say? the effect we’re left with is like a tumblr gifset juxtaposing fiona apple chanting “there’s no hope for women” next to pastel “eyeliner so sharp it could kill a man” graphics next to mitski lyrics next to jennifer’s body screencaps, all at once “empowering,” fatalist, commercial, meaningless. the effect we’re left with is undeniable nothingness.

(im sure people will also do a lesbian reading of cassie’s “tricks” as her way of trying to right the wrong, to assert her bodily autonomy where nina could not, to attempt understanding what nina went through, but this would only be in the way that lesbianism is sometimes used in film to telegraph a certain narcissistic projection onto a “worse,” or lesser woman beneath the protagonist, a more victimized woman the heroine is obsessed with both becoming & distancing herself from. pyw did remind me of kim ki-duk’s film samaritan girl, but like a shittier version. actually pyw has more in common with the dardennes’ brothers film the unknown girl, which has a similarly anthropological perspective of sexual assault victims, and is also a movie about a dead girl)

suffice to say none of this is particularly surprising or unique. pyw is simply one of those perfect films primed for mainstream acceptance & acclaim as it appears to say “everything” while truly saying nothing. it is also wholly forgettable. im sure those who benefit from r. culture would love for there to be a “final word” on the perceived phenomenon of sexual assault (which in reality has to do with which victims are able to speak out & when), so everyone can stop fucking talking about it and move on—here is the ideal platform. it doesnt matter that upon inspection the film fails to stake any real claims against r. culture other than to say that it is bad; if it were to actually consider society as reformable, it would then be forced to reckon with some uncomfortable truths such as the fact that men are not monsters & cognizantly make decisions to hurt women for reasons well beyond what has been recently reduced to “toxic masculinity,” or the fact that incarceration does nothing to prevent sexual assault but instead increases its frequency. what does matter, for the film & its supporters of course, is that it has the slick conventional look of a hollywood film with some neon and asos attire thrown in, a soundtrack of hits, a cast of recognizable stars. it is built to be used for a quick buzz, a boost of confidence that one is consuming the “right” material (sans all of that messy critical thinking), then disposed of. it is built something like a woman.