‘Promising Young Woman’: Explaining the Shocking Ending

Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for Promising Young Woman.

For nearly a year now, Carey Mulligan’s new movie Promising Young Woman has been making headlines. The Emerald Fennell-directed film — which debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and received enthusiastic reviews — was finally released digitally for VOD rentals on Jan. 15. This movie shows us just how far a woman will go to seek justice. You may like this movie, or you may hate it, but the troublesome, shocking ending will leave you with some rather strong feelings. 

This film is a revenge saga that follows medical school dropout Cassie (Carey Mulligan) who pretends to be blackout drunk at bars. When men try to take advantage of her in her fake inebriated state, she reveals that she’s been faking it and humiliates them for their hideous behavior. The movie explores Cassie’s life and why it’s been derailed, and also why she’s chosen such a strange hobby.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you may not want to continue reading unless you love spoilers, in which case keep going.  

It’s clear throughout the movie that Cassie has been a victim of not one privileged man but a system that is set up to protect the criminal over the accuser. Her self-destructing is coming from anger and grief as she tries to dismantle this system, one crappy guy at a time. 

She is still haunted by the past and continues to stage scenarios that allow her to confront a number of people connected to the tragedy of Nina, her best friend who was raped and committed suicide. This includes the now-wife (Alison Brie) of one of the rapists, the attorney (Alfred Molina) who defends sexual assault suspects, and the medical school dean (Connie Britton) who decided to sweep the entire rape scandal under the rug to protect both her and the college’s reputation. 

So, why the film have to end the way it did?

Just as Cassie decides to move on with her own life and actually get a life of her own, she ends up finding out that her new boyfriend Ryan (Bo Burnham) was not only at the scene of Nina’s rape but did nothing to stop it. Cassie, from there, puts in motion the last stage of her revenge.

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Using the tape that showed Ryan at the scene of the rape as leverage, she gets the remote address of Al’s bachelor party from Ryan and crashes it. Disguised as a sexy nurse stripper, she drugs his guests and then lures him to a bedroom for a private dance where she could take the scalpel and, while cutting into many layers of Al’s skin, engrave Nina’s name. She knew that nobody would recognize her at all in the costume since none of them had seen her since college, and she was right.   

We all know that the night doesn’t go her way, and after being suffocated, Al burns her body with the help of a friend and proceeds to his wedding like if nothing happened at all. Cassie made sure, though, that if she ended up dead, it wouldn’t be in vain and had laid one final trap, ensuring evidence of Al’s crimes (a cache of incriminating emails and texts) would be sent to the authorities in the event of her disappearance.

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Source: Focus Features

It’s reassuring that we get to see Al finally arrested, his friend / accomplice running for the hills, and her horrible ex Ryan sweating bullets after receiving a number of scheduled texts from her. One includes a sly wink and is signed “Love, Cassie and Nina,” the final beats of her revenge from beyond the grave.  

Promising Young Woman is now streaming on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Microsoft Store, and iTunes. 

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