Promising Young Woman
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I want to do right now. I see.
S2: Charlotte created by. What’s in the box?
S3: Hello and welcome to another Slate spoiler special podcast, I’m Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic. And today we’re going to be spoiling Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut, Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan. It’s a really strange and controversial movie that’s extremely twiss dependent. So it really needed to be spoiled and I’m glad we’re doing it. Joining me to spoil is Slate staff writer Karen Hahn. Hey, Karen. Hi. Thank you so much for having me on for this. Yeah, I think this is the first time we’ve spoiled the movie together that I can remember, isn’t it?
S4: Yeah, that’s correct. A good one to start with.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. This is a movie that it was made to be talked about and possibly thought about. Yeah. I don’t think you reviewed it, did you. I didn’t see you any writing on Slate by you on this movie.
S4: No, I was trying to get an interview, but I was not I haven’t done any other writing on it. Yeah.
S3: All right. So then this is this is your chance to do what I normally do at the beginning of these, since the spoiler is not a review and we kind of want to get the assessment part out of the way is just ask, you know, overall, did you like it? Would you send a friend to this movie?
S4: I think overall, yeah, I would recommend it to anyone that would ask if they should go see it. It’s definitely not a perfect movie, but it’s very strong. Like what it’s doing, it does to the nth degree, I guess. And the flaws that it has, while worth discussing, are not enough. So that I would say avoid this.
S3: I think I mean, I’m not quite sure where to put myself with this movie, but I think I disagree with you. Although I would also send people I mean, I’m also somebody who thinks like you should see movies that aren’t perfect by any by all means, you know, and that it’s fascinating to see movies like this that, like you say, are bold and strong and make make intense choices. But I think I’m on the no fence on this movie in the end. That has to do with the last 20 minutes. So that’s why I’m glad we’re spoiling it, because if we were doing it, we’d have to tiptoe politely around that. But first, we should set up what promising young woman is. So it’s the directorial debut and, you know, writing a feature film as well, debut of Emerald Fennell, who is best known as the showrunner for Killing Eve. I wonder, do you watch that show and do you have strong feelings about that show?
S4: I watched the first season, which Phoebe Walbridge was the showrunner for, and I really enjoyed the first season. I unfortunately just never caught up with the show after that, which is when Admiral Fennell took over. So I unfortunately don’t have much more comment on that.
S3: Oh, too bad, because I’m in the same position. Watch the first season. I loved it. And then I actually skipped the second season because I heard that it had gone downhill, that it wasn’t as good. And I kind of meant to watch it at some point, but never did. Now, having seen this, I can both see very well how the person who made this would be involved with killing Eve. And we can talk about some of the similarities. But I could also see why that sensibility might have taken the show in a direction that I didn’t care for.
S4: Yeah, I feel exactly the same way about it.
S3: Yeah, well, maybe let’s let’s talk a little bit about the similarities then, because they have to do with the look and the style, and that’s such a huge part of this movie. You know, the color palette, the the music choices, the just the way it feels to be to be watching it. Do you have any any thoughts about that?
S4: I mean, I think that’s kind of one of the more fun aspects of it, where it’s taking all these colors, clothing items, even songs that we traditionally think of. It’s like very girly and therefore not to be taken seriously and use them in a story that is about very serious things. And sort of I think the word that a lot of people use to describe this movie and also killing Eve is like weaponized femininity, which is what I think it does. But kind of on the inverse side of that, to go back to what we are saying about killing Eve, maybe taking a little bit of a hit in its second season, it’s also a very kind of white femininity, which my primary memory, again, her not having seen the second season of killing, is of one of the writers tweeting out a picture of the writers room. After they’d finished, they’d finish the season to be like, Oh, congrats to us. And it was all white staffers. And they deleted the picture after someone commented on that as maybe why the focus has shifted away from Sandra Oh’s character or wasn’t doing as much with her as it had in the first season.
S3: Oh, my God. If they leave that character behind, killing Eve is kind of abandoning their best character.
S4: Yeah, it looks like her name is the show title, right? She’s the one we’re killing.
S3: All that means a conversation about killing Eve. But that’s that is disappointing. And also something that occurred to me with this movie in the character played by Laverne Cox, who we should probably set up the story of the movie here. The promising young woman in question played by Carey Mulligan, is named Cassandra Thomas. She’s a thirty year old. We know she’s thirty because we see her celebrate her 30th birthday over the course of the movie, but she still lives with her parents in a place that’s never identified, interestingly. Right. It’s a kind of a generic middle class suburb. Yeah. But we don’t really know exactly where she is. And for a long time in the movie, we don’t know sort of why she lives with her parents at age 30 and still works at a coffee shop, even though she seems to be a promising young woman, this very smart woman who was previously in medical school and has dropped out when we first get to her. She’s this sort of burnout character. Right. And this coffee shop that she works at is run by a character named Gail, played by Laverne Cox. Who is a black transwoman, best known, I think, for being on Orange is the new black and yeah, I mean, in relation to this question of the weaponized feminity being a completely white one, I think the Laverne Cox character could easily be seen as, you know, one of the classic magic black characters who sort of shepherds the emotional journey of the white heroine without really having any story herself. And she’s a relatively small part of the movie. But given that she is the only character of color, that was something that occurred to me early on. But in fact, our very first introduction to Cassie, to Carey Mulligan’s character, has nothing to do with her workplace or her family. It has to do with her nightlife. And this is something if you’ve even seen the trailer, this is not a spoiler, you know about it. But Cassie’s nightlife consists essentially of trapping men. She’s sort of a honeypot, right? She goes out to nightclubs, pretending to be drunk, tries to get guys to pick her up, and then when they bring her home and try to date rape her, she does something that we’re not exactly sure what it is. And the movie is very coy about obscuring what exactly that is. I mean, she certainly has a moment always where she snaps out of her pretend drunkenness and becomes stone cold sober and starts to sort of put them on the spot for the position they put her in and what they’re about to do. But then there’s this. It’s almost like killing Eve, but without the murder necessarily. Right. There’s this moment where we cut away from those scenes and we know that something violent has happened, but we don’t know exactly what it is. Do you think, for example, in the first opening scene of the movie where she picks Adam Brody up at a bar and goes through this routine that she’s supposed to have killed him?
S4: No, I actually thought the composite I thought the whole point is that she trying to deliver this moral lesson and doesn’t actually go through with anything in a physical way.
S3: Yeah, I think I think you’re right. But I think there’s also a deliberate ambiguity about that with this, for example, the very first moment you see her after that and of shame the next morning going home when she’s eating a hot dog and she’s covered in something red and you don’t know if it’s ketchup or blood. That’s a very chilling moment, for one thing. And it’s visuals, but it also it pleases the audience in this space that I feel like this movie wants to suspend us in for most of its running time. I mean, really until the last half hour or so, which is we don’t know exactly how far Kasey will go. Right. I mean, there’s another moment much later on that we’ll talk about where she sort of abducts someone and and then walks that back a bit later so that you realize it wasn’t as violent or potentially violent as you thought it would have been. But I feel like that’s something this movie wants us to, to always be in suspense about with this character. We’re not supposed to know whether she’s capable of real violence or whether she is a sort of vigilante for nonviolence in a way. In other words, that she’s entrapping people in order to teach them some kind of moral lesson.
S4: Yeah, I think Admiral has spoken about this in interviews. I don’t remember I might be recalling incorrectly, but she said, like, the ambiguity is there, but the eventual realization that she isn’t actually killing anybody or hurting anybody is kind of essential in her view to making sure that we can still be on Casy side unequivocally.
S3: So after a few of these scenes in which we learn that Cassie likes to take guys back to their home and deliver this kind of terrifying message to them and and then get back to her life, it’s really like a double life that she leaves, right? Like nobody knows where she goes at night to do these things. There is a guy who enters the story who seems to be from a completely different world. He’s a romantic comedy hero in a more classic way. He’s played by Bo Burnham. He’s a doctor who went to the same med school that she dropped out of. And he walks into her coffee shop one day and starts to ask her questions, remembering her from med school, asking her about what she’s doing. She’s extremely evasive with him, but he does eventually charm her into going out on a date with him. And then there’s a long portion of the movie which continues to kind of weave in and out with the, you know, the more suspenseful, violent night life story where he’s kind of conventionally courting her. And and she seems at first to be responding to that.
S4: And I do feel like we do have to mention the casting about Burnam, because the casting of all of the male characters in this movie, I think is so smartly done because every other character, like all the characters that Kasey’s picking up at bars, as you mentioned, Adam Brody, there’s also Christopher Mintz, player Sam Richardson. And then in the final scene of the movie, you also have Chris Low and Max Greenfield. They’re all guys who are typically cast in very kind of nice guy roles, guys that we’re taught to identify as harmless or sympathetic if we see them in a movie. But in this particular instance, they’re all kind of also weaponized in a way where we’re peeling back like what we consider to be nice and the whole nice guy persona and seeing kind of what’s underneath. Because one of the movie’s big twists is about the true nature of Bo Burnham’s character.
S3: Right. Which is really what is a spoiler. We can say that he turns out and ways we’ll talk about to be not such a nice guy, but the movie very convincingly places him in this in this space that separate from all the other men. I mean, it’s a pretty misanthropic movie, not. Just misandrist, it’s definitely down on men, with the exception of her father, Kasey’s father, I don’t think there’s a single male character in this who comes off as like a morally decent person. But there’s also some scenes where women who have been complicit with crimes in the past and we’ll get to what those women get called to account. So, I mean, but maybe this gets to part of what I didn’t like about the movie is that as it went on, I felt more and more that the worlds, the movies world was shutting down rather than opening up. You know, that that in a sense I mean, Casy is a character and the movie tells us this from straight up front, who can’t let go of the past, who’s obsessed and who’s been damaged so badly that, you know, her world has shut down. And in a way, I felt like the movie performed that same operation on the viewer and lost its energy as it went along for the first half hour. I thought this was going to be sort of an incredible feminist revenge drama. And I was really into the candy colors in the music. And as the story unfolded, I started to feel more and more kind of trapped in its world and manipulated by the movie. I feel like the moral universe that it offered was an extremely narrow and bleak and depressing one. And I know it’s about bleak and depressing things, but. Well, we’ll get into it. I in the end, I felt like this movie had pulled out the rug from under me in a in a cruel and manipulative way, which left me with a sour feeling, even though I think Emerald Fennel is tremendously talented and I’m very curious to see what she does next. And Carey Mulligan really deserves all the praise that she’s gotten for playing this role that’s so different. She always also plays nice people, writes. She tends to play sweet, innocent types because she has a sweet, innocent face. And so getting to see her play, someone who, you know, who had this more embittered, hard shell was was really fascinating.
S4: Yeah, I think I understand what you mean, because I do think a lot of the aesthetics are doing a lot of heavy lifting in this movie. And I’ve read a couple of criticisms that I thought were really valid and maybe speak a little to what you’re talking about. The first being that the degree to which the character of Cassie is driven by the need for revenge and can’t get over what’s happened doesn’t isn’t necessarily a hopeful one for other people who may have survived similar incidents, because it’s revealed over the course of the movie that the reason that Cassie is doing this is that while she was in medical school, her friend Nina, while it’s never explicitly stated what happened to her, it’s very strongly suggested that she was gang raped by a bunch of the men who they went to school with and as a result dropped out and committed suicide. And trying to get revenge for Nina is what’s driving Cassie. And as I was saying, one of the criticisms that I read was that this seems to suggest that there’s no healthy way over this kind of trauma. And the other thing that I read that I found extremely interesting was the idea that this maybe takes agency away from Nina. She’s not someone who’s ever seen in the film. She doesn’t have a voice in the movie. Besides what Cassie decides she wants to say about her. And removing that kind of agency isn’t something that I consider until I read this, mostly because I feel like a lot of other rape revenge dramas center around the person who has suffered a sexual assault rather than someone who is around them.
S1: Yeah, it’s true that she is not the victim herself, Cassie. Rather, she is the defender of this victim who is completely absent. And just in terms of pacing, I feel like the movie holds some of its secrets for too long, just for its own energy. It’s only a two hour movie, a little bit under an hour and 54 minutes, I think. But I found the last hour of this movie incredibly slow, which is a strange thing to say about a movie that’s all about, you know, suspense and murder and trauma and all kinds of things that, you know, are certainly attention grabbing. I mean, it’s not as if a lot isn’t happening during all these scenes that I started to find repetitive, maybe because the person on whose behalf the revenge is being exacted is absent. There’s something about the latter half of this movie that seems like it wants to be about the catharsis of revenge, but is actually about, you know, the kind of calcification of this this horrible mental state that Cassie has worked herself into. Maybe we should talk about the Nina Fisher character who, as you say, never appears except in some old photographs or Cassie’s computer. But it seems like the two of them had been friends since early childhood. Right. And and went to medical school together. And that the reason Cassie has dropped out of medical school is because Nina was assaulted at a party. It seems like it was sort of a mass sexual assault at a party that her complained about that to the medical school administration went nowhere. And although it’s never said that she killed herself, subsequently, it is said that she’s dead. So that’s kind of a conclusion that we all come to. And this is what I’m saying about the pacing, is that this all comes out fairly far into the movie. I mean, you think that the movie is going to be about her relationship with Bo Burnham and her family and the guys that she picks up at night and that whole part of the story. And then in the midst of the movie and there’s this bright pink Roman numerals that appear to separate out the chapters and. Which, again, I found a somewhat awkward technique of pacing. Anyway, one of these chapters deals largely with the character played by Allison Aubrey, who’s a medical school classmate that Cassie hasn’t been in touch with all these years, who has gone on to, you know, have kids and get married and be a sort of bourgeois housewife. She takes her out to lunch. She, Carey Mulligan’s character, gets the Allison Aubrey character completely drunk. And then this is the first scene in which she does something not to a man she picks up at a bar, but to a woman that is really creepy and morally questionable. Do you want to maybe summarize their encounter at this drunken lunch?
S4: Yeah. So what you see initially is, again, Kacee gets out and Briese character extremely drunk. I think the character name is Madison. She gets a really drunk and then she leaves the table. She gives a man Madison’s room number. And it seems like it’s set up in a way that she hired the man basically to assault Madison because of her inebriated state as a way of getting back for her. I think it’s suggested that Madison either retracted or wouldn’t stand up for Nina, despite knowing what happened to her. And it’s revealed later on that it was just a setup, that the man was just hired to make sure that Madison was fine. But for a long time, Madison does believe that she was assaulted because she can’t remember what happened and just woke up in a hotel room with a random man, which is a really scary thing to do to somebody, even if nothing actually happened. It is a psychological attack. I would I guess I would say I’m not sure how to term it. Like it still is kind of a horrible thing to do to somebody. It’s abuse.
S1: And I mean probably a criminal act, too, right? I mean, it has to be criminal to to trick someone to thinking that they’ve been abused or harmed in a way that they haven’t. Not to mention kind of, you know, leaving them drunk in a hotel room with a stranger. That’s the first thing that she does. That sort of morally questionable. And I guess you could chalk that up to the movie’s complexity. And it is trying to give the character complexity. But I think this is sort of what I was talking about, about the sourness. I mean, I just feel like if I had had the attitude toward this movie of that, I sometimes think it wants the viewer to have of pumping your fist along in in solidarity with the things that Cassie is doing that it would it would make you a pretty morally questionable person to. And I’m not sure that the movie completely balances whatever it’s trying to do with its tone. I really appreciated, though, its boldness in changing tone and the fact that it does strangely swerve from being a kind of candy colored romantic comedy to being a dark revenge drama and goes to all kinds of unexpected places. But if you’re going to be that bold in your approach and make that many swerves from one kind of tone and genre to another, I just feel like there needs to be a pretty strong moral and conceptual grounding behind your story that I felt like this this movie sometimes lacked. I mean, I guess what I’m saying in a way, is that I found this movie’s morality kind of shallow at times, you know, sort of sort of black and white and without any character that really deserved to occupy the the more innocent space that it wants to create. For Cassie. There’s another thing she does shortly after that to another young woman that’s even more morally questionable, which is that she finds the daughter of the dean of her former medical school played by Connie Britton, who will meet later on. And she basically abducts this teenager. She she tricks the teenager into thinking that she is a makeup artist who’s about to go meet her favorite band, The Wet Dreams, and that if the girl rides along with her to a diner, it’s really quite menacing. If she gets in a car and rides along with her to this diner where she’s supposedly meeting this boy band, then she’ll get to meet her idols. And then we have the impression and she, in fact, leads this young woman’s mother to believe that she’s essentially dropped her off in a room full of frat boys, the same room that Nina was raped in all those years ago. And so there’s this moment that Carey Mulligan’s character goes to meet Connie Britton, dean of the school, under the pretense that she wants to re enroll in medical school and then issues this really scary threat, saying, I’ve just left your daughter in a dorm room full of drunken frat boys and that if you don’t revisit this Nina Fisher case and admit your wrongdoing in it publicly, you know, this terrible thing is going to happen to your daughter. And she, in order to prove that she’s telling the truth, shows her that she has her daughter’s phone, that she’s taken away. And it’s really terrifying. There needs to be a big fight with Connie Britton. And we learn over the course of this fight that essentially saying she didn’t really do that. The daughter is safely waiting in an empty diner and her mom can go pick her up any time. But again, I just felt it was a moment that that character ceased to make any sense. And so it’s not that I sort of turned against Cassie or didn’t wish her well and her her revenge plot, it was more that she just seemed to make sense as a character to me. And so the world of the movie ceased to have the kind of. Integrity or internal consistency that made me want to believe or care about any of the characters.
S4: Yeah, I guess that’s true. And so much as she’s trying to avenge this thing that happened to her friend. But in doing this to two other women, even if she’s not actually perpetrating any physical harm, it seems to kind of go against the credo that she’s she herself is pushing.
S1: Right. I mean, it’s non-violence is the goal that she’s trying to work toward. Right? I mean, essentially, I feel like if the movie had admitted the degree to which Cassie is a sick character, you know, someone who’s really damaged and doing things that are harmful to herself as well as to others because of her trauma, then I would have been much more sensitive to, you know, the bad mistakes that she makes along the way. But then it just seemed like it was too often the movie was trying to have recourse to this much easier moral stance of saying, go, Cassie, you know, you’ve got to get it, get your revenge on these dicks, because every single man that we meet is a complete dick. And so it’s not a question of why can’t there be a nice male character that I’m saying that I actually like the idea that, you know, we’re going to keep on building up this possibility that there’s going to be a man who can be forgiven in the world, will keep disappointing us, because I feel like the last few years of post me to have been all about that exact experience. Yeah, but there’s a real opportunity that’s lost, I think, in those scenes when, you know, Cassie almost does really bad things or pretends that she’s going to do really bad things, including the people that are innocent. Right. Like the daughter of the Connie Britton character, and that we’re just kind of supposed to keep cheering in her corner.
S4: I’m curious what you make of Alfred Molina’s character, because he shows up in the mid part of the film as the lawyer who basically got the guy that Cassie and Nina were accusing off without any charges. And it’s revealed that his whole job has been to defend these really heinous men. And Cassie goes to his house with the intention of it’s later revealed that she’s hired a man to beat him up, basically. But because he is repentant and because he tells her he’s sorry, that he basically regrets everything he’s ever done, she sort of forgives him and leaves without enacting that revenge upon him.
S1: Yeah, you’re right. I spoke to him when I said that her father is the only character who the only male character who’s at all redeemable because the Alfred character is I love that scene. That was one of the high points of the movie to me. And I think it it’s because it was a scene that introduced more moral complexity than, you know, here’s a bad dude that I have to get revenge against also because Alfred Molina is just such an extraordinary actor. He has so little time on screen. And I mean, that scene is maybe 10 minutes long. And and he’s just unforgettable. Well, yeah, because he expresses true contrition. Right. Which is something that that Bo Burnham is not able to do later on in a scene when she needs him to not only express true contrition, but his life seems to have been completely destroyed by the fact that he spent so much time in his career getting essentially, it seems like, getting young men off for all kinds of sexual offences. And that scene where he asked for her forgiveness and she somewhat coldly, but she does forgive him. She says, I forgive you. And she leaves him without harming him and tells the the hired thugs outside that he doesn’t have to go in once again there. I actually thought maybe that guy was supposed to kill him. I mean, I kept on waiting for this to become a murder story in a way that that it didn’t. And it seemed to me at that moment, as opposed to Alfred Molina moment of the movie, that there was something that was going to happen to the Cassandre character that that helped her to open up the moral universe I’m talking about that sort of opened up this this nihilistic or kind of sour direction that the movie was moving in, which is that she goes to see Nina’s mother. And this is the most we really ever learn about about Nina, the dead friend, on whose behalf she’s doing all of this. Molly Shannon plays the mother. It seems that the two of them haven’t seen each other in a really long time, maybe since Nina died. And there’s this really nice scene of the two of them sitting on the porch talking about their memories of Nina, Molly Shannon’s character, saying that, you know, Cassandra really needs to let go of her bitterness. I love the detail that she gives her a juice box to drink out of, you know, this moment of her kind of becoming a child again. And after that scene, it seems like Cassie has taken that advice. She goes home and she quits the fake social social network that she’s on. I forget what it’s called Friendster, I think. Fake Facebook. Yeah, exactly. Where she’s been stalking all these medical school friends from the past. She she throws away her little notebook, which we haven’t mentioned, but she carries around a notebook in which essentially she crosses off the names of every person, usually a man who she’s had this kind of terrorizing encounter with that she keeps on repeating and you get a sense that maybe she’s going to move on. I believe it’s maybe around that time in the movie, too, that there’s a really classic rom com montage sort of sequence with Bo Burnham, right. Where you see them dancing together in a pharmacy and throwing around bags of chips and, you know, lying in. Bed together, being sweet and cute together, and it really does feel like suddenly we’ve morphed into a whole different world, that’s a movie about two sweet young people falling in love. But at this point, we don’t trust the movie at all. You know that that can’t really totally be the case.
S4: Yeah, that’s when Alison Breese character shows back up. And she spent this entire part of the movie not knowing what happened to her, which is why she actually comes to Cassie’s house to try to get answers after being posted on phone calls. And Cassie, now having kind of a new lease on life, apologizes to her and tells her that nothing actually happened. And Madison delivers to her video of the night of Nina’s assault, which is kind of what sends Cassie back onto her revenge path.
S1: Right. And that scene is is quite shocking as well, because, well, that’s the that’s the big moment of the turn for Bo Burnham’s character. Right. So this phone has survived all these years with the the footage of the rape incident on it. We don’t actually see this footage, but we hear some voices as as Carrie Mulligan’s characters watching it really shout out to her acting in that scene. She is really quite incredible at the moment that she finally has to confront, you know, the party that she didn’t go to, that she keeps on saying with regret, why didn’t I go with her? Why didn’t I go with her? So she finally does get to see what happened there. And whose voice do you hear in the background sort of laughing and jeering everything on then Ryan, the Bo Burnham character. And so we suddenly realized that back in med school, he was part of this whole Freddi world that, you know, treated the incident lightly.
S4: Yeah. And complicit in everything that Kasey’s now trying to not overwrite, but trying to write literally. And that is also the turn where she goes to confront Ryan and he and the Bo Burnham character. And he initially tries to play it off like he doesn’t remember or that he’s changed since then. But his reaction, like immediately starts to go in a very, very negative and aggressive direction. As soon as she threatens to release the video in order to get him to tell her where the bachelor party of the guy, the main perpetrator of the assault, is being held.
S1: Right. So then at the end, it kind of becomes at that moment, she’s essentially blackmailing him. Right. And she has the evidence that he was at this party. It’s actually not clear, given how rape law and consent laws worked in the country that it would be that bad of a thing for it to be released since the Bo Burnham character didn’t actually do anything, he was just present.
S4: I assume that if he was identified, he would get fired because he works as a paediatrician or he works with children. And that’s not somebody. That’s right. Have around kids.
S1: That’s right. And she does point that out to him. But at any rate, she holds it over his head and says, I’m going to release this tape unless you give me the exact location of the bachelor party being held for, you know, the prime the primary perpetrator of the rape. So he goes ahead and does that. And that is when we get into the last I mean, it’s quite long, actually. I think there’s still a half an hour more to go in the movie at this point. At least thirty five minutes or so, I remember as she’s heading in to the party. And one thing I have to say that I absolutely loved about this moment of her heading into the party, it’s one of many moments that she puts on, you know, a crazy kind of candy colored disguise. She dresses as a stripper to try to get into the party to to act as if she’s been sent to entertain these bachelors and, you know, puts on a rainbow wig and a nurse costume. But the music on the soundtrack as she’s heading into the party is is fantastic. It’s this cover it chello cover, I think of Britney Spears toxic. And I just thought it was one of the best uses of that kind of girly music that you were mentioning from from earlier in the movie. It’s a really disturbing image and sound as she’s as she’s walking into that party. And and just the sheer fact that there’s still half an hour to go in the movie makes it quite scary because, you know, you realize that that’s too much time in the movie for there to just simply be a quick, satisfying, cathartic resolution that she’s going to go in and sort of wreak hell on these guys and leave. So after she heads into the party is when things get really unexpected. I mean, as I said, all this time, we’ve kind of been waiting for there to be real bloodshed. You know, there’s all these things that are just dancing at the edge of being very dangerous. But so far, there hasn’t been any real physical violence in the present day. There’s only been, you know, this obsessive return to the violence of the past that she’s that she’s fixated on. But the party seems like it’s being set up to be a real bloodbath and it turns into something completely different than we expected, although no less horrifying. Do you want to talk us through a bit of it?
S4: Yeah. So she initially gets to the party and manages to separate the character’s name is Al. He she managed to separate out from the rest of the brothers by taking him upstairs to the cabin bedroom and she keeps up the stripper act as she handcuffs him to the bed. But once he is handcuffed, she reveals exactly what’s going on. She asked him if he remembers what happened and tells him that she means to an. An act of revenge, I think what she says, she plans to carve Nina’s name into his chest and she gets like a little a scalpel out to do that. But that’s when things really take a turn. And frankly, really shocked me because our managed to get one of his hands free and Smothers Nina to death in a fight. And it’s a it’s a death slash fight scene that’s really protracted and horrible. Like, I don’t think there was any music behind it. It’s just listening to these people’s struggle as Cassie slowly suffocates and dies.
S1: It’s truly unbelievable. I mean, just to stop you for a minute, I will say that, you know, Emerald Vanel definitely managed to pull off the surprise in that scene because what you’re expecting is certainly some kind of orgy of violence at that party and maybe even possibly that some of the violence will be will be enacted on her. But the fact that she’s just simply snuffed out and this character who’s been in essentially every second of the movie. Right. I mean, she’s really a very central central character isn’t isn’t really even seen at the moment of her death. You know, she’s smothered under a pillow. So you don’t sort of get to say goodbye to her. And it almost seemed unbelievable to me because she’s been presented the whole time as this almost superheroic or supernatural kind of power. Right. That she’s somehow able to, you know, for example, lead that double life without being caught. I mean, you almost expected her to be faking her death and to pop up from behind the pillow and still have her scalpel and stab him or something. It was just really an incredible down to discover that it had actually worked and that, you know, essentially evil had won and she was dead.
S4: And to go back to the point about it being kind of such a long and drawn out death scene, I think it also is kind of the biggest departure the movie has from the girlie aesthetic that we were talking about. The most of the rest of the film seems to exist in this very heightened reality. But this scene in particular is so kind of visceral and real that it increases the shock of having the main character die right in front of you.
S1: Yeah, you’re right. The stylization all kind of drops away and it becomes a very brutal kind of real time murder scene. And I mean, also, of course, a huge amount of the energy and fun drops out of the movie at that moment because Cassie is gone, you know, I mean, she is the one who, as morally questionable as she may have been, was was fascinating and fun to watch and unpredictable. And the person on whose side we were to the degree we are at any one side. And so there’s a real sense of lostness after she leaves the movie and still quite a bit of the movie to go. I mean, probably 20 minutes or so of of movie to go in, which, well, a bunch of crazy stuff happens. Two of the brose, the the groom himself who killed her and his best friend, who also appears to have been really complicit in the Nina Fisher rape all those years ago, decide to burn her body, which is another really horrifying scene. And they take her out in the woods, which is where this whole bachelor party has been happening in a cabin in the woods and and try to burn her and all of the evidence. There’s that really horrifying shot of her kind of burned hand with the multicolored nail polish that has been her signature throughout the movie. And, you know, just kind of realizing that she is gone and is being treated, her body is being treated as just this piece of refuse is a really horrible moment as well. And then there seems to be this investigation. And that’s a strange part of the movie pacing wise, too, that I can’t say. I think it is a great choice because the energy kind of drains out. But, you know, the cops go to her parents and ask why she has disappeared. Bo Burnham’s character also gets questioned about why she’s disappeared and he gives kind of a part of the truth, obviously doesn’t talk about his complicity in the long ago rape, but he does say, you know, we were together and we had just broken up the day before she disappeared. We get the sense there that, you know, he is a part of the patriarchy, is going to be perfectly comfortable and is going to be protected by law enforcement for just giving them the bare minimum. And then there’s one final twist. Then we do get to some degree, the satisfying catharsis of revenge we were waiting for. But again, it didn’t sit well with me or leave me feeling at the end of this movie, like Elizabeth, like her story was anything that we should be rooting for. Do you want to talk about the the big sting, the wedding stating that ends the movie?
S4: Definitely, yeah. So after the police investigation and we see all of that kind of go fruitlessly, it cuts to the day of our wedding following the bachelor party. And they’re all kind of standing around and mixing in the crowd. Ryan gets a text message from Kasey, who we know has been killed, and it’s revealed that she has kind of predicted that she might that something bad might happen to her at the bachelor party. So she’s given all the evidence and stated where she went in an envelope to Alfred Molina’s character so that someone will get justice for her. And he’s taken that to the police. And so police roll up to the wedding. And with everything that Kasey has given them posthumously, they arrest Al. And Ryan gets a final text from Kasey that signed from her and Nenad with like a little, I think, smiley face. And so in the end, she kind of gets justice and that is going to jail, but it’s for her murder rather than for Nina’s assault. And you’re right that it’s not really a hopeful ending because it’s kind of suggested that sexual assault upon women is still not something that’s going to be taken seriously. And you have to die in order for someone to do something about it.
S1: Right. I mean, insofar as if it’s supposed to be any kind of empowering feminist message, which maybe Imroth anywhere on online with us right now, she would be saying, no, that’s not actually what I was trying to do. But a whole lot of the movie does seem to be pointed in that direction, that we’re going to feel the satisfaction of, you know, justice being done. But, yeah, you’re right, the idea that somehow you have to sacrifice yourself and that the cost for having justice done is that you have to give your own life and this in this horrible way. And that she knew that going into the party. Right. Because she wouldn’t have addressed that that letter to Alfred Molina in which you also sends him the tape, you know, the phone with the with the tape of the old rape scene. She wouldn’t have done that if she didn’t know that she was not possibly heading into a suicide mission of some kind. So I guess there’s just it’s a little bit like that Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree, you know, that sort of idealized self-sacrifice or something when in fact, maybe what we should be doing is trying to envision a better world in which, you know, justice can be brought while a person moves forward with their own life rather than giving it up.
S4: I think that’s the funny thing about the interviews that Admiral Fallon has done, because she said Cassie doesn’t view this as a suicide mission, but that does, as we have discussed, sort of feel at odds with the fact that she does have this very kind of extreme failsafe.
S1: I guess she goes into it hoping for the best, but knowing that she she might die in the process. But nonetheless, it’s a kind of a kamikaze logic, right? I mean, the logic is sort of I’m pulling out all the stops and I’ll do anything to have the symbolic revenge. And, you know, if it ends in my own death and it ends in my own death and in the end, I guess I didn’t feel I didn’t feel that justice had been done. In a way, as you say, it wasn’t Nina’s perpetrators that were being punished for what they did to her, but for the secondary crime that had been piled on top of it. And it just it just ended up feeling to me like a very cynical movie that that didn’t think that any good outcome was possible. You know, that the most that we could hope for was some sort of all around conflagration where everybody goes down.
S4: Yeah, I guess I’m not sure what more there is to say about that, because it’s true. It’s very. On the one hand, like you want her to achieve something, but it’s set up in a way that seems to suggest that in the world that we live in, it’s not possible unless you resort to these really extreme measures. And even then, as we’ve just said, it’s not for really quite the right reasons that justice is being served.
S1: I suppose I mean, I wanted so much, especially after the first half hour kind of captured me. I wanted so much to feel, especially after the first half hour, which I thought was really promising and enticing that this movie was going to be a way of processing kind of meta trauma through pop culture in a way that was that had some joy or verve to it. Right. Which the music certainly does. And the design and the colors do. This isn’t a movie that feels gloomy and gritty while you’re watching it. And it makes a lot of room for humor and pleasure in ways that we haven’t talked about. Like I did laugh out loud many times. And, you know, there was a lot of energy put into the aesthetic world that that it creates. But although I might be excited next to see what Emerald panel does as a writer and director, because she certainly is gifted, I can’t come out of it saying that. I think that this brought. Anything new to my understanding of trauma or revenge or, you know, sort of female solidarity or any of the things that it was about, and that may have been just because it hammered home this one idea so many times, that one idea being, you know, basically that that heterosexuality is kind of a scam, you know, and that women are are kind of doomed to be victims over and over again, which is, in fact, what Carey Mulligan’s character ends up being. And again, I mean, it’s very possible that the writer director would strenuously object to that and say, you know, she refuses victimhood. But the simple fact is, you know, she ends up being burned to death in the woods after this ignominious death and. I guess I don’t know, am I just somebody who’s craving a happy ending, why why did I want things to turn out differently than that? I understand that this movie is about something very dark and that it wants to go to a very dark place. And it isn’t that I feel like every movie needs to have a happy triumphal fist pumping ending. But there was something about the last half hour of this movie that to me was just like, no, no, no, no, no. The last time that I was happy with what was happening was when that cover of Toxic was playing as she was walking to the party.
S4: Yeah, I think it’s maybe just the very kind of uneven balance that this has between the promise of a rape revenge film is going to be, which is getting revenge versus trying to, I guess, maybe be more realistic in ambitions and what actually can be carried out or achieved. But I’m not positive that the heightened world and the more realistic message that’s trying to be brought across mesh as well as they should have or could have. But I also, on that note, don’t know what I would say effects would be for it.
S1: Yeah, I’m not sure that I could do a script pass and figure out one or two fixes that would make it different. I think that there’s something about the whole concept of the movie, maybe only only because of the ending. You know, I actually think that this movie could have pulled itself out, including all of the situations that I mentioned that made me queasy earlier, the kidnapping of the young woman and the way she treats the Allison Aubrey character. All of those things are creepy and questionable. And I don’t need my heroine to be morally pure in order to to root for her. I care about her story. I think what left me with the bad taste and yet has had to do with the simple fact that, you know, her character was literally and figuratively smothered in kind of her voice was snuffed out by the end of the movie. Right. I mean, I guess you do see her return in that in that one text as this kind of, you know, ghost from beyond the grave still punishing them. But there was such a sense of hopelessness at the end of the movie that the best you could hope for was to be this sacrificial animal and and maybe cause some harm to your enemies posthumously. But I can’t imagine that watching this as someone who had lived through such traumas, that would be a very satisfying ending. And maybe it is for some people. And different people’s fantasies take different paths to satisfaction. But I can’t help but think that if I were, for example, of rape trauma counselor, that I would advise people to see this movie. I would probably warn them very far away from it, including if they wanted to see a revenge fantasy movie. I think I might send them to I don’t know, I spit on your grave or just some classic piece of exploitation trash that that at the very least kind of offers a vision of a way to keep on living.
S4: I think you’ve convinced me. I feel like I was more positive about this when the podcast started. But in discussing it, I have reconsidered. Oh, no, I hope I didn’t sour your experience because. No, no, no, no, there is not. Not in a bad way.
S1: There is pleasure in watching this movie. And I can understand it seems like a lot of critics responded to it with, yes, it is a flawed movie, but ultimately it has so much energy and boldness and such a great performance from Carey Mulligan that it makes it worthwhile. I do think that people will be talking about this over the next couple of months because don’t you suspect that Carey Mulligan will be part of the best actress conversation?
S4: Yeah, I mean, I think in a just world she would be. But I’m also not sure just because the general reaction to the film has been so divisive. I’m and I’m also not sure how well this aesthetic will go over with an institution that normally rewards more very stodgy movies.
S1: Yeah, this isn’t a very scary movie at all, but it might be a somewhat asghari performance in that, you know, I mean, to be cynical about it myself, you know, trauma is roles about trauma and about recovering victims of trauma, especially young, white, beautiful, recovering victims of trauma. And to get Oscar attention at the very least, I think critics awards groups have been chattering for sure about about Mulligan’s performance. And and I’m glad to see that happening. I’m glad to see her taking on roles that are different from the ones that she usually has. And honestly, I have no no beef with someone who thinks that this is a really great movie. I just I just could not deal with the with the sort of slow disintegration of Carey Mulligan’s character and having it not be presented as a slow disintegration, you know, to have her continue to be presented as a sort of avenging heroine when it seemed to me like she was turning into a more and more mentally ill and damaged person who was just engaging in self-destructive acts. I do actually hope that people who listen to this and are at least curious about the movie will see it. If it sounds absolutely awful and it sounds like it’s going to trigger you and make you disgusted, then don’t watch it. But it is at the very least, not like any other movie out there right now, right? I mean, I was not able to predict anything that happened up to the last moment. Yeah. And and so it’s it’s kind of worth checking out in that way. And because we’re recording this in this strange pandemic time where nobody can figure out how to. Many movies, if you don’t want to go into theaters to see promising young woman, which I’m certainly not ready to do, you can find it streaming on YouTube, on Google Play, on Amazon, maybe some other places as well. And and as I was saying, I do encourage people to go and see it if they are curious about it and if they think they can handle the intense subject matter.
S5: And that’s our spoiler special. You can subscribe to this late spoiler special podcast, Feed on anywhere. You subscribe to our podcast. And if you like the show, you can please read it and review it in the Apple podcast store. That helps bring new listeners to the show. And we really appreciate it. Of course, if you have suggestions for movies or TV shows we should spoil in the future or any other feedback to share, you can send it to spoilers at Slate Dotcom. Our producer today was Morgan Flanary. Joining me was Karen Hohn. And Karen, I hope to spoil another movie with you soon. That was fun. Oh, me too.