Promising Young Woman Ending Explained: What Really Happened And How Cassie Pulled It Off

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (2020)

Promising Young Woman has been in theaters for a couple of weeks now. But with the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on movie theaters many folks are choosing to watch films from the comfort (and safety) of their own homes. Fortunately, Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut was made available for PVOD today. The film follows Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan, as she takes vengeance on predatory men and those that have wronged her in the past.

If you are here, I sincerely hope you’ve already watched Promising Young Woman. If you haven't, make sure you are a-okay with Promising Young Woman Spoilers, because this article is full of them. Seriously, this movie is a vicious, wild ride and is best experienced with fresh, unspoiled eyes. Now that we’ve taken care of that, we can jump into the Promising Young Woman ending, how Carey Mulligan’s Cassie pulled it off, and what the ending means for Bo Burnham’s Ryan.

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (2020)

What Happened And How Promising Young Woman Ended

Promising Young Woman follows Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan, as she baits predatory men into taking advantage of her in a seemingly intoxicated condition at local bars and nightclubs. Cassie then turns the tables at the last minute and confronts those men about their actions, before they attempt to sleep with her. Each confrontation marks a name and a tally for her notebook, which contains what appears to be hundreds of entries.

Later, viewers find out Cassie’s best friend Nina, was raped and presumably committed suicide. Nina’s trauma and death are the motivation behind Cassie's weekend activities. When she finds out that Nina’s rapist, Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), is back in town to get married, she orchestrates a plan to get back at Al and those involved with Nina’s rape.

In her final act of vengeance, Cassie poses as a stripper for the bachelor party, lures Al to a bedroom and handcuffs him to the bed. Cassie then reveals herself to the unwitting Al and attempts to carve Nina’s name into his skin. Al breaks free and proceeds to suffocate Cassie to death.

The next morning Al and his best man Joe burn her body. Cassie's parents file a missing persons report to no avail, and Ryan lies to the police about her whereabouts. Ryan then attends Al’s wedding where he receives a text from none other than Cassie. As the texts roll in Ryan hears the incoming sound of sirens. The cops arrest Al for Cassie’s murder, Joe runs and Ryan is warned that it’s not over yet. Cut to lawyer Jordan Green, who opens a parcel of mail containing a note from Cassie and the phone with the video of Nina’s rape. Cassie’s remains are then discovered by the police, with little more than her pendant bearing Nina’s name remaining.

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (2020)

How Cassie (Carey Mulligan) Pulled Off The Twist

Despite dying at the hands of Al Monroe, Cassie left certain clues in place to ensure that those involved in Nina’s rape and eventual death would get what was coming to them. Those final scenes are important for piecing together exactly how she did it. Her main piece of evidence was acquired from Madison, who gave her an old phone containing a video of the event. The video also revealed that her boyfriend, Ryan was there.

Using the video as leverage she was able to learn about the location of the bachelor party from Ryan. Cassie then mailed the exact location of her whereabouts (Al’s bachelor party), along with the phone from Madison to the repentant lawyer, Jordan Green. The package also contained a message to inform the police if he didn’t hear back from her. As for the text messages, viewers may have noticed that the texts to Ryan at the wedding had ‘scheduled’ written under them, insinuating that Cassie orchestrated the entire plan before going to the bachelor party.

Because of her past experience with Nina, Cassie didn’t trust anyone. But after being moved by Jordan Green’s realization and apology, she chose to trust him with the only thing that could prove Nina’s rape, the video on the old cell phone from Madison. In the end Green fulfilled Cassie's last wish and forwarded her final correspondence to the police, as they arrive shortly after the wedding vows to arrest Al for murder.

Bo Burnham in Promising Young Woman (2020)

What The Ending Means For Ryan, Cassie and Nina

After her death and Al’s arrest (for Cassies murder, which the police explicitly state) it’s presumed Jordan Green informed the police of her last whereabouts. Because of this, it's safe to assume that the police have the phone and video implicating Al, Joe, Ryan and others. The lawyer may have forwarded the entire package to the police and they are simply waiting to analyze the video and bring up further charges. It’s all but guaranteed that Nina will come up in future trials, so the prosecution may be holding onto it to secure a conviction.

In her final act Cassie was able to finally avenge Nina, as she got back at almost everyone involved. Al is headed to jail for murder, and Joe will presumably be punshined for his involvment. She taught lessons to both Madison and Dean Walker, two individuals who failed to act or believe Nina when the accusations first came out. But when the credits roll there’s still one loose end: Cassie’s ex-boyfriend Ryan.

Ryan knowingly lied to the police about Cassie’s last known whereabouts, no doubt to save his own skin, but they may not know that, unless Cassie mentioned it in her final message. Did Cassie specifically ask Jordan Green to mention him to the police, or did she let him off the hook? I have my doubts that she would let him off so easily. It's not clear if Ryan appears in the incriminating video, but his voice is definitely heard. Even if Ryan wasn't arrested at the wedding, that's some pretty damning evidence in the hands of the police. Instead, I believe Cassie is forcing Ryan to live in a constant state of paranoia. He will never feel safe, or comfortable again. He will have to live with knowing that his entire world could come crumbling down at any moment.

What do you all think? Did Ryan get off the hook or did Cassie do him one better and force him to live in constant fear? Vote in our poll below. If you’d like to check out the rest of this year's jam packed movie slate, check out the full list in our 2021 movie guide.

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Braden Roberts

Into tracksuits by Paulie Walnuts, the Criterion Channel and Robert Eggers.