Promising Young Woman – Why the Ending Works

It’s finally here for everyone to see! Promising Young Woman, my number one film of 2020, is available to rent on digital! While I want to spend this piece giving you reasons to check it out, I can’t truly discuss it without diving into heavy spoilers. So please if you haven’t already, check it out and then come back here! It is worth the hype, believe me!

When I first started Promising Young Woman, I assumed it was going to be a satisfying revenge film. A movie where I got to see a female protagonist take her revenge on the men who wronged her and her friend. Promising Young Woman is not this film. Promising Young Woman is a portrait of processing all-consuming grief.

The original draft of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman has a much different ending than the film we see. The original ending still shows Cassie, played by the incredible Carey Mulligan, making it to the cabin for the bachelor party for Al, played by the star of Private Practice Chris Lowell. The story differs in that Cassie carves Nina’s name into Al’s chest, cuts his dick off, and leaves him handcuffed to the bed. This ending may have felt more powerful to some women in showing that survivors can achieve some sort of triumph to overcome rape culture.

However, the ending that made the film, which you can see now on digital, is much different. Cassie does make it to Al’s bachelor party. She does meet Schmidt from New Girl. She drugs some fellow men at the party, so they won’t hear Al. Cassie confronts Al about Nina, her best friend who he raped while they were in med school and ended up committing suicide after dropping out. As soon as Cassie whips out a scalpel, Al goes into what he would call flight mode. A physical clash ensues and Al pins Cassie down, suffocating her with a pillow as he sobs that this is “all her fault” until our protagonist dies. Yes, Cassie dies with a full 20 minutes left of the film.

The ending included in the final cut of the film is much stronger to me personally. About halfway through the film, Cassie visits Nina’s mother, played by the amazing Molly Shannon, who tells Cassie to move on, Cassie can’t just move on. She was once a med student excelling in school but is now just spending her day as a barista and nights trying to show guys how sleazy they are as a form of justice for Nina.

Cassie isn’t able to get justice anywhere in the film. She tries to move on with her life, start dating and have a “normal” relationship with Ryan, played by Bo Burnham, who delivers a great supporting performance. This relationship comes to a halt when Cassie learns Ryan was complicit in Nina’s rape; he stood by and watched as her best friend was raped.

Cassie needs to see someone be held accountable for their actions. Repeatedly, she gives various players in the crime a chance to acknowledge their role in Nina’s rape, yet the justice never comes. When she does see a lawyer confess his guilt, it’s not truly enough. She wants to see someone charged with something and see her best friend’s pain recognized.

Promising Young Woman shows the real story so many women and survivors see, no justice. Their rapists walking free, getting married, having children. This is something that makes the ending work so well. This wasn’t a happy ending; this was a real ending. Fennell, the writer and director of the film, noted in an interview,

“I felt like I had an obligation if I was going to make a revenge movie about real women, then I couldn’t cop out and let everyone leave thinking it was all fixed. It’s not a nice ending, but [this] isn’t nice.”

It may have been agonizing for Fennell to conclude Cassie and Nina’s story on a violent note, but the writer/director (and Camilla on The Crown) stated the goal was to get audiences to “talk about it, whether they liked it or found it hard or not.”

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