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“Promising Young Woman”: Feminist revenge cinema in pastel

There is this one scene at the beginning of the film in which Cassie, dressed in girlish pastel tones, clears the fronts with unexpected severity. She is 30, works in a coffee shop, a man of the same age comes in, orders and then stares at her: “Cassandra! I’m Ryan, do you remember? We were in the same class at university. Why do you work here? ”And she:“ You mean, what does a promising young woman like me do in a shitty coffee shop like this? ”

The reprimand is tough, but actually she had actually planned to lead a different life than living with her parents, going out all night and serving unfriendly customers with their coffee wishes during the day. Cassie was one of the brightest minds in medical school. Until a friend and fellow student raped her best friend Nina. Nobody believed Nina at the time, nobody was on her side, and she committed suicide. And Cassie dropped out of college and her life plans.

Every man a piece of revenge

Since then, she has spent her nights going out in clubs and bars, acting like she was dead drunk, and letting men take her home. As soon as these supposedly helpful men start to approach the apparently helpless young woman, Cassie suddenly wakes up, to the horror of the respective man. She never goes home alone, one by one she falls into a trap – and this trap is horrific, at least that’s what the film trailer suggests. Every single man is a revenge for Nina.

But then Cassie learns from her fellow student Ryan, who has reappeared, that the rapist at the time has his wedding ahead of him. And her plans for revenge take on concrete forms: everyone who wronged Nina should repent, from fellow students to the unsolidary course leader and the incompetent lawyer to the man who committed the crime. Blood will flow, that’s for sure.

Screenplay Oscar straight away

“Promising Young Woman” is the directorial debut of the British Fennell, until then known among other things for her role as the young Camilla Parker Bowles in “The Crown”. At the same time, it is her first screenplay made into a film that has been an insider tip in Hollywood for years , as an unusual feminist perspective on the subject of sexual violence. At this year’s Oscars, Fennell’s film was nominated for direction, screenplay and for best film.

Emerald Fennell, with the Oscar for

Reuters / Chris Pizzello

For years the script was an insider tip, after the self-directed filming, Fennell promptly won an Oscar for “Promising Young Woman”

The multiple success of the film was celebrated as a feminist stage victory in the film industry, and that’s true to a certain extent. That is less because of the content of the film, because things are a little more complicated here. Fennell plays with themes from rape revenge and horror films, and this is where it becomes difficult not to give too much away. But unlike in bloodier genre examples, what happens to the men in Cassie’s clutches is ultimately nothing more than a hopefully instructive shock.

Rape Revenge genre from a feminist point of view

The fact that crimes committed against young women in a patriarchal society are punished so incomprehensibly mildly even in a pastel-colored fantasy of revenge is somewhat disappointing.

After all, not only is Nina’s life ruined by the ruthless act of her rapist, but also Cassie’s existence and that of all the others who have been sexually exploited inconsequentially by the same alleged friends – which relentlessly reflects the real experience of many women.

In the exploitation cinema tradition, rape revenge, i.e. rape and subsequent revenge, is often the cause of lurid depictions of sex, sexual violence and bloody murder, especially Meir Zarchi’s classic “I Spit on Your Grave” from 1978, in which a surviving rape victim bloodily hunted down her tormentors.

Scene from

2020 Focus Features, LLC.

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) can’t cloud a little water? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that.

One example in the form of a horror comedy is Karyn Kusama’s “Jennifer’s Body”, based on a script by Diablo Cody, in which Megan Fox becomes a lively demon as a result of a satanic ritual, another is Coralie Fargeat’s wild film “Revenge”, in which a cute young woman after the rape, depicted without any voyeurism, becomes the goddess of revenge on perpetrators and witnesses to her martyrdom.

The system “always wins”

The pastel candy store shades of the costumes and furnishings in “Promising Young Woman” and the pointed staging of Cassie’s nocturnal activities suggest a similar exaggeration. But anyone who hopes to have their thirst for entertainment and revenge satisfied will be disappointed in the end – and deliberately, as Fennell said in an interview with “Entertainment Weekly”: “I had to be honest. This is how the system works, it always wins. It would have been a tremendous injustice in my eyes to be honest for the entire film and then have a Hollywood ending that lets us all off the hook. “

The shift into the bitter-realistic is understandable, but probably especially painful for those who have experienced sexual violence themselves. Ultimately, Fennell’s film contains no emancipatory message, for example that there can be justice and that solidarity rebellion against patriarchal practices benefits everyone. Rather, the conclusion here is that all men are cowardly, mostly ruthless and sometimes even vicious, and that a woman who enjoys sex can in any case only lose – her reputation, and possibly even her life.

Arjun Sethi
Passionate guitarist, gamer and writer. Lives for the perfect review, and scrapes texts until they are razor-sharp.


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