Promising Young Woman director breaks down that brutal twist ending

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Warning: The following story contains major spoilers for Promising Young Woman. Read on at your own risk.
After all those looks from Carey Mulligan doing very, very bad things that resulted in super slow, depressing cuts to Britney Spears songs, you didn't think Promising Young Woman was going to have a happy ending, did you?
“I had to be honest,” writer and director Emerald Fennell tells EW that he decided to end the story of rape and revenge with the brutal death of his protagonist Cassie (Mulligan) by the man who sexually assaulted her former medical school Peer, Nina, years ago. "This is how the system works. The house always wins. It would be a tremendous injustice to me to be so honest all the way through this film and then have a Hollywood ending that lets us all off the hook."
Fennell lures her audience with exciting genre mechanisms. The setup for the film is fascinating: after Nina's attack and subsequent suicide, Cassie devotes her life to a café during the day and to the nightlife after hours, pretending to be drunk, following seemingly cute men into their bedrooms and confronting them when they try to take advantage of them . Scenes like this feel cathartic - especially in the #MeToo era - but it's what happens during the climax of the film that turns it from classy film therapy to a cold glimpse of stark reality for women.
After learning that her charming new boyfriend Ryan (Bo Burnham) played a role in Nina's attack, Cassie decides to end her quest for revenge on Nina's rapist Al (Chris Lowell) by infiltrating his stripper-clad bachelorette party and the drugs takes guests one at a time before cuffing their target to a large bed. There she takes out a scalpel and tries to carve Nina's name into his flesh, but Al overwhelms her and eventually suffocates her under a pillow, burns her body with the help of a friend (Max Greenfield) and goes to his wedding as if nothing is happens. Although he was later arrested (Cassie has organized a massive digital offensive consisting of emails and text messages containing malicious information that is supposed to dissipate if she dies), the ending still sticks, and that's exactly what Fennell wanted.
"It is necessary for people to think that it is resorting to violence and that they want it. When the trailers were released, everyone assumed it was killing people, even though we had not seen it from afar," explains Fennell on the film as an experiment on social complicity. "It's important that the audience wants her to pick up the scalpel. We all do it. At this point, we're ready. We're prepared. We might be afraid of her. It was important to me that the first in the." The moment violence kicks in - that lie we all sold - if you're a woman in a revenge movie, you can just grab a machete [and stop it] - what happens is, I'll lose it, amazing untrue, [to give her the upper hand]. "
She adds, "When I wrote it, I thought there was a way to make this movie that was, 'Hell, yeah, stick with the man!' But the harder - and more honest - way that hits you first and foremost is me [honestly] what happens when you are in a room with a man and they are scared of you and you have a gun? "
It may have been painful for Fennell to limit her story to a physically violent note, but the goal was to get the audience to "talk about whether they liked it or thought it or not" so that they " keep thinking about "it" and be inspired to make a change in the real world.
"We have to talk about this stuff," she finishes. "I didn't want people to go and think it was fixed."
Promising young woman is now playing in selected theaters.
Related content:
Carey Mulligan is ready to romp around in Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan hunts down toxic men in a wild new trailer for promising young women
EW's Oscar predictions for 2021: Nomadland, Mank lead the early race
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Emerald Fennell

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