• Signe Marie Madsen
4. term, English, Master (Master Programme)
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a lot of focus has been put on sexual harassment and sexual assault of women in particular. A lot of rape victims still experience victim blaming and the process of going through a trial can be psychologically damaging. Two out of three rapes go unreported, and out of those reported, 975 perpetrators out of 1000 sexual assaults walk free. In 9 out of 10 cases the victim is female. Thus, sexual assault and consent is an interesting topic, because so few cases end up in court and get the rapist convicted. Promising Young Woman centers on the topic of rape culture, victim blaming, and the consequences it can have when the perpetrator goes unpunished. Thus, this study seeks to investigate the ways in which Emerald Fennell uses the revenge story in Promising Young Woman to problematize rape culture and victim blaming, as well as its effect on the spectator, in order to determine what the combination of the topics of revenge, sympathy and morality in the film imparts about the prevalent discourse in rape culture and the gray areas of the debate.
The study employs a selection of theories in order to investigate how Promising Young Woman use revenge, sympathy and morality to problematize rape culture and victim blaming in the prevalent discourses and a debate full of grey areas. In the field of cognitive film theory, Murray Smith’s theory of character engagement and Margrethe Bruun Vaage’s theory of the antihero are used to determine sympathy structures in the film, and Cassie’s role as an antihero. Allison Young and Claire Henry’s characterization of the rape-revenge genre is used to determine if Promising Young Woman is a traditional rape-revenge film or a new take on the genre. Miranda Fricker’s notion of testimonial injustice is used to analyze how a rape victim’s credibility is often questioned while the rapist’s is not, and how this results in silencing and victim blaming. The study will employ an interdisciplinary approach using film analysis and literary analysis mixed with culture studies.
The main protagonist Cassie is a rape avenger and antihero, who takes proxy vengeance for her friend Nina, bringing her on a path of revenge where she makes her targets think they are being raped or are in danger to prove a point and then reveals they are not in danger when they have changed their minds. Nina experienced persistent and systematic testimonial injustice undermining her as a speaker due to credibility deficit resulting in silencing. Her rape and subsequent death function as a plea for excuse to justify Cassie’s revenge, as rape is morally disgusting. Ryan was an onlooker to Nina’s rape, who at first appears sympathetic, but he protects himself instead of telling the truth. He becomes an onlooker to Cassie’s murder through Al’s arrest resulting in an unsympathetic allegiance and represents white male privilege contributing to a negative portrayal of men. The five-act revenge plan shows the difficulty in getting justice as a rape victim. A friend, the education institution, and the justice system silenced Nina through victim-blaming. Both the friend and the educational institution maintain their position, forcing Cassie to punish them, as they favor the rapist. The justice system represented by a defense attorney who regrets his actions is spared from punishment, because he shows remorse. The rapist is built up to be an antagonist but turns out to be a weak man showing a fragile masculinity. He does not take responsibility for his actions, and by a turn of events, he suffocates Cassie. However, Cassie rises as a phoenix from the ashes and takes her final revenge post-mortem, getting the rapist arrested to the relief of the spectator. The ending provides a realistic view on the asymmetry between rape and murder in reality and fiction, as it is easier to get convictions in murder-cases than in rape cases. The film presents a negative portrayal of men, through white male privilege and toxic masculinity, and that every man can be a potential predator.
The study problematizes that there is a general understanding that every rape accuser is a potential liar, as opposed to every rape accused being potentially guilty. By posing as an intoxicated woman and being taken advantage of by men who are shocked when Cassie is discovered to be sober, the film highlights gray areas of the rape debate, where it is often difficult to get a conviction. Thus, it comments on issues of consent, and how the burden is placed on the victim for proving that a crime has been committed towards them, while they experience silencing and victim blaming, and everyone sides with the attacker. As a result, the film provides a nuanced view on a difficult discussion.
Publication date3 Jan 2022
Number of pages79
ID: 457590919