Don’t Worry Darling

The idea that we don’t have control over our lives, that the world around us is not real or somehow working against us, evokes no shortage of emotions ranging from the confronting to the cathartic. Inception, The Matrix series, The Truman Show, Thelma and Louise, Revolutionary Road…these are all films that have explored this theme whilst making their own unique mark on cinema.

I will say this now – Don’t Worry Darling is not one of these films. It should not even be placed in the same class. It is not that the film’s big reveal is uninteresting, nor is the acting to fault. Olivia Wilde’s latest flick ultimately suffers from emotional staleness; nothing communicated is particularly inspired, nothing shown is particularly memorable. What we are given is a surface-level exploration of female entrapment that fails to do justice to its subject matter.

The film is set in an isolated US town named Victory. In this town, the wives of the female inhabitants are expected to play the role of traditional housewife – cooking, cleaning and generally supporting their male spouses. Although the time period is unmentioned, the cars, costumes and home décor suggest 1950s. Outside of the societal norms characteristic of the period, there are other expectations placed upon these women. They are not to venture beyond the outer limits of their neighbourhood – an area restricted to men – and neither are they to probe into the exact nature of their husbands’ line of work.

The couples and families that make up this community are all participants in the Victory Project, which is understood by the female inhabitants to be a scientific enterprise focused on developing “progressive materials.” There is a peculiar paradigm to this lifestyle. Every man leaves home for work at the exact time, and each woman sees their husband off in matching synchronicity. What’s more, when we see the women do anything other than housewifery, it is usually in the company of other women. These lifestyles not only feel performative, but orchestrated, as if their schedules were concocted to keep everyone in check.

For a film of this sort to succeed, there needs to be an emotional ride; it is not enough to simply play with expectations and then expect the film’s conclusion to leave an impression on its audience. Alice Chambers’ (the film’s protagonist) journey towards reclaiming her agency felt less gripping and involving than it needed to be. In the case of The Truman Show, we intimately experience the protagonist’s inner conflict; we yearn for his freedom, but we also empathise with whatever it is that compels him to stay. The experience is such that by the end of the film, we too feel the weight of his decision and the overwhelming relief and ecstasy that follows. I cannot say that the story of Don’t Worry Darling (written by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke and Katie Silberman) allows for a comparable experience. Harry Styles’ sex appeal is not, in and of itself, a reason to relinquish personal freedom, and the town of Victory offers nothing but tedious repetition under a questionable promise of personal safety.

Olivia Wilde’s direction does not do the film any favours either. As Alice (Florence Pugh) uncovers more about her world, increasingly bizarre things start to happen. From close-ups of eyes and monstrous dance figures, to hallucinations of drowning and suffocation, Alice’s journey is marked by paranoia and a sense of threat. While some may enjoy the psychosensory drama, I found this to distract from what should have been the horror focus of the film: that we can too easily accept our realities, and wither in our own inaction.

It is also a pity that Alice’s interaction with key characters is limited. For instance, her run-in with Dr. Collins (Timothy Simons), the town’s physician, draws our attention to the secrecy that pervades the town. Her tense exchange with the head of the Victory Project, Frank (Chris Pine), is also intriguing, and shows us how easy it is to hide something sinister behind a public persona. The acting in this film is to be commended, and shines through in spite of the lacklustre writing.

Some would argue that the film’s merit lies in the imagery; perhaps the aircraft motif has something to do with perspective, that our notion of freedom is delineated by the limits of our awareness. Regardless, these figurative calls to meaning seem arbitrary and do not change the fact that the film feels more like an extended Black Mirror episode than a serious exploration of female entrapment.

I will say this again. There is no emotional ride. It felt more like sustained threat spurred Alice to act, not something deep down inside her. My disappointment with the film can be described as follows: a short, four-and-a-half-minute scene from Revolutionary Road, where the character John Givings delivers a magnificent monologue exposing the Wheeler’s baseless justification for staying put, is significantly more thoughtful and infinitely more affecting than the entire two-hour runtime of Don’t Worry Darling.

That says a lot.

5/10

Viewed at Cinemax, Europa SC, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia
Written by Ashley Roohizadegan
Ashley Roohizadegan

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