Movie: Promising young woman (2020)

I used to daydream about what my life would be like if I don't have to worry about time and money. I would read all the books I wanted, try out all the delicious recipes, bingewatch TV-series and movies, draw and paint, take beautiful pictures, and travel to the end of the world. Back then, I couldn't even imagine what that was like, a day not being bothered by bullies, perverts, flashbacks, nightmares, chronic pain, and fatigue and doing the things I like and just to be happy. After suffering continuously for many years, you will start to genuinely believe that it will never end. You only look at things negatively, attract bad people, keep getting disappointed and hurt by people, and get trapped in a negative, downwards spiral. In a way, I think that this is what made Cassie (short for Cassandra), the female lead, decide to do what she did in the end, while she could have just had a special surprise movie showing at the wedding. 

I really like the messages of the movie: that not all nice guys are actually nice guys, that even women are not supporting women (and kind of distance themselves from the victim, "they never get drunk that way","they never put themselves in a dangerous situation", like it won't ever happen to them and their loved ones that way), and that the whole system around sexual abuse is messed up (the many witnesses, the video that got sent around, the school, the lawyers, the police, the jury, the victim pushed to death, etc.). Although most people don't deal with or see this firsthand, I think most sexual abuse victims recognize this. In this #metoo era, I think everybody should know this. People should reflect on their own behavior and actions. Not "it has always been that way", but question it and do better. Speak up when you see that something is wrong. Learn about what consent really means. Let go of the old-fashioned, toxic masculinity that says that it is cool to treat women like trash and playing and passing them around like some toy. 

The movie also tackles the stereotype of a promiscuous woman, who sleeps around and shouldn't complain about getting raped, who lies about getting raped because she regrets it afterwards, and who falsely accuse someone of rape and ruin men's lives for fun. Just recently, I saw an interview on Hong Kong TV about an actress that needed to act in a scene, wrapped in a towel (with tube top and shorts underneath), but a random, pervert standerby decided to take lewd pictures of her without permission. She kept asking him to delete the pictures, but he refused. She stood her ground and somehow in the end, made him delete them. A male colleague, standing next to her, joked around and said that some women enjoy to have their pictures taken that way, but since she insisted for them to be deleted, he should have. It doesn't help that he was previously accused of sexually harassing a young actress. But since that comment was aired and not censored, nor did it create an uproar afterwards, it must mean that it is normal to talk that way about women. It surprised me how ingrained and accepted this is in society. 

I got interested in the movie, when I stumbled upon the trailer. But like most movies, I like the trailer more than the movie itself. It is almost like all the best moments were already shown in the trailer. Maybe, it was also because I had high expectations and filled the blanks that the trailer wasn't showing myself. It was great that there weren't any violent and triggering scenes, except for the final pillow scene, which was brilliantly filmed from the male perspective. It was almost like killing a pesky cockroach that keeps on moving his legs or a murderous blowup doll that somehow came to life, which is exactly how the guy was viewing her. Normally, movies would show close-ups of the woman's face, sweating, turning red, and gasping for air, yelling from the top of her lungs, her hands pushing and feet kicking for her life, etc. Almost making me feel like some men might get turned on from seeing it. I was also really disgusted by how disrespectful they were to the death body and her belongings. You almost wouldn't believe this can be real, unless it happens to you. However, I felt like I didn't get the sweet revenge that I expected. In the beginning, I get how she could get so crushed by the death of her best friend that she gave up on living her best life and do the bare minimum of being alive. I understand how she tries to deal with the trauma by punishing what we call in Chinese, corpse collectors (aka men picking up intoxicated women), in clubs and bars. But the way she does it is a bit unpolished and not meticulously planned out for a top med student (you could blame that on the trauma though). She goes to local clubs and bars, where she can easily get recognized by people she knows, instead of going out of town, another city far away and just tell her parents that she likes to travel alone and clear her mind during the weekends. Her alter ego looks too similar to her own self to be a disguise, almost like superman wearing glasses. Isn't the whole point that she can keep punishing men without getting caught? The men that she punished don't necessarily go to the same club every time and things could get ugly. She could have hired different female actresses to pretend to be drunk, have a whole kick-ass team of female survivors, just looked around for vulnerable looking women and protect them, or at least, hire a bodyguard or train in martial arts for when things go wrong (are those the red sticks in the notebook?). I get that smart girls in university might be inexperienced with makeup, but it has been years and she could hire a makeup artist or go to a makeup counter, and they joke around about makeup, that it is to please men, and later on, a guy actually says that he likes women without makeup more. I feel like they are trying to do too much at the same time. They don't want to use the glam up trope (normal girl turning into Cinderella), which is overused in movies and creating unrealistically high beauty standards for women, and make her too hot and seductive, so that viewers can excuse the bad behavior from men and say that she asked for it. They also want to convey the message that just wearing and doing anything is enough for men to decide to do bad things and view it as asking for it. They could have done this better by filming the normal looking, drunken woman, and contrast it with footages of the male gaze, like looking/zooming in on the legs and cleavage, while not in overly revealing clothing, but still seeing glimpses of sexiness and men, over-the-top imagining the red, drunk face and the disheaveled hair like someone during sex. 

I also feel like it is a shame that they didn't use Cassie's smartness and background in medicine and made her do the same trick every time, get pretend drunk and actually be sober. It would have been great to show what a waste it is for her to use her skills for evil instead of for good. They also tried really hard to make her look like a good person and make the viewers like her and stand by her side. We never see the female classmate go very crazy and her picture perfect family on the verge of falling apart or the dean trying everything she can to reach and protect her daughter, and emotionally go from angry, frustrated, threatening to hurt Cassie, negotiating to let her get back to the university, to giving up, crying, and begging for forgiveness, so that she could at least, pick up whatever is left of her daughter. We never see the people responsible for Nina's death get what they deserve or look back on their past actions as something unacceptable and feeling remorse. Or would that be too much of a Disney ending? It does seem more realistic for people to be more like the female classmate or the men, who cared less about the women's lives they destroyed, than the lawyer, who was eaten up by guilt and haunted by his conscience. The way she punishes the men is also oddly similar to what the child abuser hunters are doing in the Netherlands: making them scared and think twice, before they decide to harm someone. I am not sure how effective it really is. It does give you the quick satisfaction of revenge and a simplification of the problem and solution. But it never gets to the root of all evil. Just like killing the guy who did it, wouldn't solve or change anything. I am also questioning if he really would go to jail for murder. In a way, it is genius, as they use the common elements of rape to work against him. From the start, he could have just called the police and say it was an extreme form of self-defense. She was holding a scalpel (with gloves, so no fingerprints!) and had all kinds of other torture weapons in her cute little emergency kit. But no, he decides to get rid of the dead body, making it impossible to trace back how she died, and stupidly, doesn't do that cleanly enough to not have the remains and her necklace get discovered. Just because calling the police would ruin his upcoming wedding and word would come out that he was alone in a room with a supposed stripper. So, like rape victims, he decides to stay quiet out of shame. If he called the police immediately, they could have also proved that the rest of the party was drugged and passed out, but traces of the drug disappears after 24 hours, so like most drugged rape victims who get so shocked that they can't act immediately, they are left with no evidence. But is the current evidence really enough to put someone in jail for murder? With the phone and the video, there is a motive for murder. The burned remains found near the cabin makes it more likely for it to be murder instead of the initially thought suicide, but can they prove who did it and when? There is no murder weapon (I think that they are smart enough to burn the pillow) and I am not sure if they can tell where the murder took place, as there was no blood and after having the cabin cleaned by a maid, there should be no traces left. With all the people present, insisting that she left the cabin that night, she could have been killed by a random stranger too. I also thought it would have been much cooler if she was secretly still alive. She could have just pretended to be dead by not moving. While the guy cries himself to sleep or have someone knock him out without knowing, she could have replaced herself with a similar sized dead body under the pretence of all women look alike with smeared makeup. Afterwards, she could break into the lab and replace the DNA report with hers. She could travel abroad with fake documents and be the doctor that she always wanted to be. 


After giving it some more thought and reading the reviews of other people, I think I understand the ending more. My ending would probably be too happily ever after and too miraculously still being alive (from watching too many Korean TV series). Life is not a fairytale. There are no certainties and all the question marks that arises at the end that get no definite closure and feel like loose ends, are exactly the things that we need to focus more on in real life. Asking ourselves the difficult questions and if we like the answers. It is true that men can get away with a lot, while women are often at the losing end in conflicts. I remember this particular incident, where women complained about the treatment and portrayal of women in car sports, has resulted in the firing of all women and replacing them with cartoon mascots and children (Why do women get punished for stating the obvious? It is also questionable that they think that the work of grown women can be done by someone in a suit restricting movement and sight and by children). The original planned ending of this movie was supposed to be an even bigger punch in the gut and I agree that it is the right way to give the viewer the urge to change things for the better, to make sure that there won't be a second Cassandra. It is just that from my point of view, I have seen too many losses like this in real life and I really wanted to see a happy ending, even if it is only in movies.

Moreover, I found out that there was someone else who also felt that the appearance of the alter ego is odd. Not in the same way as me, but I somewhat understand his point of view. Cassie does give me the feeling like she is wearing clothes that isn't hers, as if she borrowed them from a sexy friend. The clothes and the person wearing them don't become one. I wouldn't have called it a bad drag or pickup-bait gear though. She also isn't exactly portraying a femme fatale, who is trying to lure her next victim. She is just wearing whatever the situation calls for, blending in like a chameleon. Wearing whatever the other girls are wearing in that particular establishment and acting like an easy prey for the ill-intended, not seducing men into doing something bad and punishing them for it. Here is where people get it wrong. The femme fatale character is supposed to look and act in a certain way in movies and Carey Mulligan's portrayal is far from it. She doesn't look like women on magazine covers or on the red carpet. She looks like a normal woman in a club, without the perfectly blow dried hair, the wrinkle-and-imperfections-free, seductive makeup, and a push-up bra. It isn't her looks or acting that is wrong, it is the expectations that is wrong. Sorry to break it to you, but the femme fatale doesn't exist. It is just a fantasy created by men and women are such complex creatures that men tend to try to put them in ill fitting and a limited number of boxes to make it easier to understand. I also think that the reason why people take so much offense in the careless uttering of a replacement, as it reminds us of the way men force women to "behave". "Don't like the job? I will find someone else to replace you. Are you complaining about unwanted touches and sexual harrassment? I will make sure you won't ever be alone with me in a room and get passed for promotions. Don't like that I am cheating and beating you up? I will leave you and get together with someone else. "The ease such threats are given is so unsettling. The whole movie is telling us to question our beliefs and actions and the reviewer doesn't seem to get it at all. I feel like his response to the criticism is a non-apology. It is almost like he is acting like the men in the movie. "I am a good guy. It is you who is wrong." He admits that he didn't phrase certain thoughts that clearly and it is not that big of a leap to think that he meant that she wasn't hot enough for that role, when he suggests the role should be played by someone more attractive and used some pretty insulting words to describe the appearance of her alter ego in the movie. Then, he says a whole bunch of things similar to "I am sorry you feel hurt, I didn't mean it (Implying that if you don't mean it, she isn't allowed to feel hurt)", "I am not a racist, as I have a lot of foreign friends. (No, you can still be one)", "I am angry you accuse me as a rapist, as I don't see myself that way" (none of the rapists in the movie identify themselves as a bad guy or rapist), "It wasn't bad when you needed me, but now that you need publicity, you view it as bad (Why didn't you report earlier?)", "I will only acknowledge you as a smart person, complex filmmaker, if you agree with me", "my son didn't rape her, because he is gay (a fitting quote of a mom with a son accused of gang rape)", gaslighting people, making them think that they are overreacting, imagining things, and crazy.

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