A psychological thriller for the modern age, Olivia Wilde’s second directed film, Don’t Worry Darling, asks what it means to have “the perfect life” and what sacrifices are necessary to achieve it. A movie that plays with themes of gaslighting, feminism, and toxic relationships, Don’t Worry Darling proves that, while it may withstand the drama that went on behind scenes, it may not survive due to its poorly written second and third act.
Set in the 1950s, Don’t Worry Darling follows Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles), two young newlyweds living in Victory, California. Victory is a small desert town that acts as the headquarters for “The Victory Project,” a classified assignment that every man in town works for and every woman in town questions. The town and project are owned by Frank (Chris Pines) and his wife Shelley (Gemma Chan).
Every day, Alice follows the typical routine of the 1950s housewife: cooking, cleaning, and gossiping. As far as she is concerned, her life is perfect. However, everything changes when Alice ventures outside the “safety line,” the one rule the wives in the town are supposed to obey. Out in the desert, she discovers a mirrored dome and after touching it, realizes there is something off about the world that she lives in.
Alice begins to have recurrent flashes to memories of another life, seeing things that aren’t there and noticing inconsistencies in the world around her. She eventually discovers the plethora of lies surrounding the world she lives in and seeks to escape. Viewers get to experience the awe of discovery and stress of escape right alongside Alice.
Themes and Execution: Spoilers Ahead
Thematically, Don’t Worry Darling deals with many issues that plague modern women, including the tension between housework and career, gaslighting, independence, and consent. The approach to these themes are surface level but well done. Consent is, arguably, the biggest theme of the film and the catalyst of the plot and climax. Alice was forcibly placed in the neighborhood because she was not paying attention to Jack and prioritized her career over him. Bunny (Olivia Wilde) choose to go to Victory to avoid the pain of loss. However, despite the peace Victory has brought her, Bunny encourages Alice to escape while she can because she recognizes Alice’s right to choose for herself.
Though Don’t Worry Darling has many interesting themes, the execution leaves something to be desired. The first half is wonderful; it carefully constructs the Victory Town and introduces us to the characters and their worldview. While the beginning appropriately sets the scene, the rest of the film fails to follow through. Jack and Alice’s flashbacks develop the character storyline, but the film still leaves the audience with more questions than answers at the end of the film.
The first half asks: What is the Victory Project? Who is Frank? What happens when you go out into the desert? What happened to Margaret’s son? How did outspoken Alice end up as a housewife? The second half barely begins to answer those questions or address the implications of the fake world and its effect on the citizens. There are several moments in which Alice and the audience realize something is wrong, but that “something” is barely touched upon.
One example of this is, in the real world, Frank is an Andrew Tate like podcast host and has created a brainwashing device that transports its users to Victory. The real world implications of this are never explored, such as how vast Frank’s reach is or if citizens are aware of this device and allowing women to be brainwashed. The film also doesn’t address whether anything will be done if Alice were to go to the police. The set up to make commentary on how society allows women to be mistreated is there but is never explored. Likewise, after touching the mirrored dome, Alice begins to have constant visions but never officially “exits” the dome until the end. It can be argued that Alice is having those flashbacks because she has one foot in Victory and one foot in the real world, but it is never explained as to why someone can touch the dome and (presumably) not exit.
The second half is also filled with plot holes. After Margaret’s suicide, everyone speaks of her as if she’s still alive. Additionally, Shelley (Gemma Chan), kills Frank in a seemingly random bout of violence, saying, “You stupid, stupid man. It’s my turn now.” Though a shocking twist, there is nothing before then to indicate that Shelley and Frank have a volatile, controlling relationship or that Shelley would want Frank dead for any reason. Kiki Layne recently revealed on her Instagram that a majority of her scenes were cut from the film, so perhaps a better explanation of the world is within deleted scenes between Layne and Chan that were left on the cutting room floor. As of right now, there is no known reason as to why this happened, but the decision to kill off Margaret in post production and to remove any scene that indicates why Shelley hates Frank makes the film feel incomplete.
One of the highlights of the movie is, undoubtedly, Florence Pugh’s performance as Alice. As the leading actress, Pugh has the most material to work with, and she gives every moment onscreen her all. When watching this movie, the audience is truly transported into Alice’s shoes and can feel what Alice is feeling in real time. Whether in Victory or the real world, Pugh embodied Alice in a way that definitely makes up for some of the less developed aspects of the film.
Overall, Don’t Worry Darling is an entertaining film, but does not reach its full potential. It is visually beautiful, never has a boring moment, and Florence Pugh’s performance is outstanding. But with no concrete resolution (character and story wise), no deeper exploration of its themes, and poor decisions made before, during, and after production, Don’t Worry Darling ended up leaving a lot to be desired.