Released 2022. Director: Olivia Wilde
THE PICTURE OF A PERFECT LIFESTYLE AS DEFINED BY Don't Worry Darling looks something like an idyllic suburban America in the 1950s. Alice and Jack are part of an affluent middle-class experimental community called the Victory Project, a neighbourhood built for utopian living in the Californian desert like an architecturally designed oasis.
The residents comprise of young couples, some with little kids, others are planning and busy trying (emphasis on busy). There’s always dinner parties and cocktails, jazz music playing, glasses clinking, people laughing. The sky is always blue, the streets are safe and beautiful, the neighbours always smiling. All the husbands drive shiny convertibles to work at the Victory Project and all the wives do when they’re done tidying their immaculate homes is join a dance class or gather at the mall to buy a pretty dress, catch up for a drink and some light gossip. Life’s a bliss, until Alice discovers it’s all a mirage.
Like a glitch in a software or the subject of an elaborate prank, Alice begins to feel something is unnervingly wrong with her world. She never questions why some of the eggs are hollow but she knows someone is hiding something when she witnesses her neighbour Margaret slit her throat and fall off the roof. After sighting a small plane in distress, Alice ventures out into the desert by herself only to discover a secret building and then the next minute she wakes up at home and nobody believes her. Alice begins to go out of her mind.
On the surface, Don’t Worry Darling is about the price some people pay for the kind of lifestyle they desire. On a deeper, darker level, it’s about how men/husbands decide for the family, and women/wives are stuck with that decision, powerless to escape or make any change that amounts to much. The community is led by Frank, a charismatic overlord behaving like a cult leader who preaches beauty in order and symmetry. All the men know what’s going on and none of the women knows what their husbands really do when they leave home every morning. In one surreal instance the wall literally closes in on Alice. You could say it’s a metaphor for patriarchal oppression.
Whilst Pugh’s performance is credible and solid in places, I couldn’t help but recall time and again her role in Midsommar, in which she plays a visitor trapped in a sinister commune and made to participate in peculiar, even violent rituals against her will. The two roles are so similar it feels like Pugh is repeating herself, which may be an unfair statement but that’s what comes across.
The plot twist is handled in a rather clever way when Alice’s role is reversed but the narrative unfortunately takes a dive pretty much straightaway. Whilst the revelation is delivered, there’s much left unexplained and not in a constructive way to be reflective or philosophical, but questions that the filmmakers fail to address satisfactorily.
A case in point is the character Shelley played by Gemma Chan, who defends her husband Frank with such authority at a dinner party gone sideways and then plunges a knife into him like she’s hated him all her life. The change of character is a cheap move played for shock value.
Wilde tries to make Alice’s eventual liberation provocative, leaning on notions of gender politics but the result is jarring and doesn’t bring a climactic relief. I’m not sure if it’s due to the way Alice escapes, or the nagging loose ends the story leaves behind. Without giving away any more spoilers, Don’t Worry Darling is a little wobbly in addressing the idea of what reality is, its fragmented dream logic only works in the realm of the Matrix.
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