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Promising Young Woman: And The Phases' Deeper Meaning

Let's talk about Promising Young Woman...

The character of Cassie (played by Carey Mulligan) is haunted by a past that she has not been able to move on from. And as the story develops we find that her best friend Nina, was raped at a college party by a guy named Al Monroe and she had to drop out because of the emotional trauma which eventually led to her suicide.

Cassie and Nina were both promising young women, who were both at the top of their class, and when no justice could be found for Nina, Cassie dropped out to take care of her, but to no avail as Nina could not live with the pain.

Cassie's passion for medicine could not be re-ignited with her best friend gone. Their lives were torn apart and Nina's assaulter went on to have a great life... but Cassie never forgot...

But what this movie does so well is as Cassie constructs the phases of her plan to avenge her best friend... each phase holds a deeper meaning by highlighting the types of people who allow a culture of sexual abuse to thrive.

And as Cassie exposes these characters in each phase, if she believes that their heart has not changed... she gives them a heavy dose of what it would be like to be in Nina's position as the victim.

Phase 1: Madison (The Enabler)

Madison is the friend that did not believe Nina's allegations of being raped by Al Monroe. And when Cassie invited Madison to lunch, she begins to see that Madison has not changed and was saying the same things like:

"It's crying wolf."

"When you get that drunk, things happen."

"I'm not the only one that didn't believe it."

Once again taking any responsibility away from Al Monroe and throwing it all on Nina who, "must have done something wrong."

But while it appeared that Cassie was just trying to get her drunk so she would talk openly and say what she really thought... Cassie was also prepping her for the contingency plan of putting her in a compromising position and giving her the scare of waking up in a hotel room and not remembering what happened to her.

It's very raw moment, and a moment where we see how far Cassie is willing to go in order for people to actually have sympathy for Nina.

Phase 2: Dean Walker (Dismissive Authority Figure)

After Nina was raped at the party, she approached Dean Walker with her story. It was once again dismissed.

Prior to Cassie's visit to Dean Walker to see if she had changed, she tricked Dean Walker's child into coming with her to see a band she was obsessed with.

So with the contingency plan in place, Cassie once again attempts to see whether Dean Walker's heart has changed. And she finds that not only does she have no recollection of the victim, but has a great alumni relationship with Al Monroe, who is "a great guy."

And as Cassie tells the story of Nina's rape to Dean Walker, we see the Dean take a diplomatic approach as she records details of the account... But when she asks who Nina reported the rape to... the diplomatic approach of Dean Walker changes when Cassie tells her it was "you."

Now Dean Walker goes into the verbiage of the enabler:

"BUT, if she was drinking... and couldn't remember everything."

"None of us want to admit when we have made ourselves vulnerable."

"Those choices can be so damaging, and really regrettable."

"What would you have me do... RUIN a young man's life every time we get an accusation like this?

"I have to give him the benefit of the doubt."

After seeing no remorse, Cassie flips the script. But this time tells Dean Walker that she picked up her daughter and dropped her off at the room Nina was raped and left her with boys who had alcohol.

Once again, when the Nina's story was not enough... Cassie made it personal.

Would she give those boys the benefit of the doubt, when it came to her own daughter? Could she ruin one of those boys lives if her daughter was sexually assaulted?

Now of course, Cassie was not going to put her daughter in the same danger that Nina was in. So once Dean Walker broke down and admitted she was wrong.. Cassie told her the truth that her daughter was at a diner waiting for a band to show up and said,

"Look how easy it was... I guess you just had to think about it in the right way. I guess it feels different when it's someone you love."

Phase 3: Jordan (The Lawyer of the Attacker)

Up until this point we have seen no remorse until Cassie makes Nina's story relate to someone they love... For Madison it was herself and for Dean Walker it was her daughter. But now we meet the Lawyer, who defended Al Monroe.

When Jordan answers Cassie's knock at the door, she tells Jordan that it is his day of reckoning, to which he simply says... "I've been waiting..."

A little taken aback, Cassie accepts his invitation to come into his home... And once again begins recounting this person's role in her friend's death. Jordan represented many men like Al Monroe who needed a good lawyer to get them out of sexual assault charges... Jordan was famous for bullying victims to drop their cases and made the victims feel even more helpless.

Where this confrontation takes a turn is that while Madison (Nina's Friend!) said that she vaguely remembered and Dean Walker had no recollection... Jordan remembered exactly who he bullied all those years ago when he said the name, "Nina."

Jordan: "Have you come here to hurt me?"

Cassie: "Do you want me to hurt you?"

Jordan: "I think so..."

And when Jordan goes on to say, "I will never forgive myself... I want you to know that. I will never forgive myself for any of this." Cassie, forgives him and then the already unstable Jordan, completely breaks down in front of her.

And honestly, this was such a big moment for Cassie's character arch because just as she never moved on from Nina's death... neither did the Lawyer of Al Monroe.

Cassie had been living with guilt all these years for not being at that party with Nina, and Jordan has been living with a different kind of guilt for what he did to so many women just for a bonus.

Chance for Redemption?

After Cassie's interaction with Jordan, she begins to rethink her plan... people change. She saw Jordan had remorse and after talking with Nina's mom, she begins to wonder... if she could forgive Jordan... could she forgive herself? And go on and have a life that Nina always wanted her to have?

And she begins to... but she runs into Madison again. Cassie assures her that she was not assaulted and apologizes for putting her through the mental torment of believing she had...

Once again, Cassie through even the cruelest means, got an ally of the attacker to feel a resemblance of the pain that Nina went through. So much so that Madison reveals she has the video that circulated around the entire school of Al Monroe raping Nina at the party and everyone cheering him on... and she gave it to Cassie.

The gravity of this scene was held perfectly by Carey Mulligan... A video she did not know existed holds the footage of the very moment she could not save her friend from. A moment that she only knew as it was described to her by Nina.

Nina's words were all the proof Cassie needed. But in this scene, we see Cassie wobble between the new life she had found and the past that had always haunted her...

We see her slowly move off the couch, to the floor where she made her way to the phone with the video... and it is a moment that just hangs in the balance and it is so emotional.

All we hear are the "boys being boys" and cheering on Al Monroe (including the voice of Ryan who Cassie had just started dating). And we see Carey Mulligan's gut wrenching reaction to her best friend being raped on video for entertainment of the fraternity.

And it's just acted so well by Carey Mulligan! There are no words, just seeing her face, you know that all the pain she had moved on from is flooding back - to the point of no return.

Phase 4: Al Monroe (The Attacker)

The perfect life of Al Monroe is about to be turned on it's head. Cassie poses as a stripper who crashes Al's bachelor party and calculates her move to finally confront the man who destroyed her friend's life.

This scene was beautifully written because as Cassie drops hints of who she may be... we see Al get more and more uncomfortable as he tries to piece her identity together.

And then Al finally puts it together, "You're Nina's friend."

In each of the last phases, Cassie tries to gauge if someone's heart has changed. But as she interrogates Al, you see that while she may still want answers... she does not care if his heart has changed... not after she saw the video. And once again we hear the classic excuses defending the attacker...

"I didn't do anything wrong."

"It is every guys worst nightmare to be accused like that"

To that, Cassie replies... "Can you guess what every woman's worst nightmare is...?"

But then the confrontation takes a turn and Cassie get to the heart of her madness, talking fondly about the Nina she knew...

"Even when she was four years old, she was fully formed from day one. I was just in awe of her. She was just... Nina."

"And then she wasn't. Suddenly she was something else. She was yours. It wasn't her name she heard when she was walking around... it was yours. Your name all around her. And it just squeezed her out."

And this brings the entire emotional journey home. Carey Mulligan in a single scene seamlessly moved from Dark Comedy, to enduring friend, to sociopath. All in a single scene!

And for those that haven't seen it, sorry... but I am going to leave the rest of this for you to find out.


The world was robbed of her best friend and the scene confronting Al Monroe was such a real and raw display of the pain that Al and so many others had caused her.

I've said this before, but if a movie can move me to tears by getting me invested in a story that I did not know existed 2 hours ago... I welcome it with open arms. And to me, this was one of those movies.

This movie gets to the heart of a culture that has been left unchecked for far too long. And to me, this movie's power was just enforced by the flawless performance of Carey Mulligan.

The Me Too movement is not a thing of the past, and this movie was the loud and necessary reminder that it is just beginning.

So, I know that I probably need to let this movie age a little bit but at the time of writing this, I have it ranked in my personal top 100 movies of all time as well as what I believe to be the 100 greatest movies of all time... follow the links to see where Promising Young Woman currently ranks!

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