Promising Young Woman is a spiked #MeToo-era cocktail mixing elements of rape revenge fantasy, black comedy and trauma drama that some critics and survivors have called potentially triggering.
In the movie, Carey Mulligan plays a woman named Cassie who prowls the night to teach seemingly nice guys who turn aggressive when no one is looking a lesson. She does it in the name of her fallen friend, Nina.
Directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman has been praised as empowering but also criticized for surface-level engagement with trauma.
Our senior film writer Norm Wilner and I lean towards the latter opinion, finding it manipulative and nihilistic, forcing a ruthlessly honest performance from Carey Mulligan to play along with its provocative, booby-trapped plot that comes riddled with “gotcha” moments.
Many women disagree with us, including Toronto-based gender justice advocate Farrah Khan.
“When you’re surviving violence, when you’re dealing with violence, when you’re trying to work through the grief and trauma, you need to have space to be like, ‘I’m angry',” Khan explains during a roundtable interview. “People get scared when women get angry.”
“This gives permission for us to talk about something as taboo, which is revenge,” Khan continues, adding that in most circumstances, a survivor’s anger can be weaponized against them as evidence for why they are not to be believed. “If a survivor says that they want revenge, even whispers that, then they’re seen as spiteful.”
Khan is part of a roundtable of critics and activists that we gathered to discuss this story of revenge fantasy and trauma. She joins Erica Shiner, creator of the screening series Bechdel Tested; Refinery29 Unbothered senior editor Kathleen Newman-Bremang (who spoke to Promising Young Woman’s supporting actor Laverne Cox about collective trauma); and pop culture columnist Teri Hart.
Watch the full conversation in the below video, which is heavy on plot spoilers.