The following article contains major spoilers for Don’t Worry Darling.
Amid all the drama, supposed feuds and spitting accusations, the lead-up to Olivia Wilde’s thriller Don’t Worry Darling has been missing one thing: a verdict on the actual film. We know far more than we care to about the behind-the-scenes gossip, but what is the film actually like? Well, to put it plainly, it’s fine. That is, until its twist.
As you may have seen from its trailers, the pleasant town of Victory that Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) reside in is, at first, unassuming. Every day the stay-at-home wives prepare breakfast for their husbands, who drive off to work in an elusive building in the desert – a place the women are told to stay away from because it’s “dangerous.” Soon, Alice begins suspecting that something weird is going on. Why is she here? Why is the truth being hidden from her? She starts having strange Black Swan-style visions – recollections of a life outside Victory – and so she digs deeper. All the promotional materials hint at some shocking revelation.
The twist, and you have been warned, is that Alice has been forcibly plugged into the Victory Project, a 24/7 VR hell where husbands can indulge in their 50s-set dreams and push their wives back into the kitchen. Like The Matrix for suburban America. As we later learn, Jack and Alice are actually together in the 21st century, where the former is disgruntled that his partner won’t cook dinner or have sex with him every time she returns exhausted from her long shifts as a surgeon.
Don’t Worry Darling positions itself as a feminist thriller that takes aim at antiquated, sexist ideologies. The “go make me a sandwich man”, basically. But the problem lies with Jack. Styles’ character essentially amounts to an incel, a man who believes that he’s been robbed of happiness because women can go out into the workforce. As Alice heads to bed, we see him fall down the far-right rabbit hole. Sitting by his computer, he trawls through Discord servers and listens to a podcast hosted by the Victory Project’s leader Frank (Chris Pine). (Wilde noted that the character is based on Jordan Peterson, the right-wing psychologist who the director described as a “pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community.”)
By centring Don’t Worry Darling around incels, it feels like it’s positioning misogyny as an extremist ideology held by few men. It’s reflected in Jack’s appearance. In Victory, he’s a sophisticated, suit-wearing Brit with perfectly coiffed hair, but in the real world, he looks like the stereotypical basement-dwelling Reddit user in a greasy wig. Like the cursed version of Harry’s 2015 One Direction era. It’s as if Jack had to be “uglier” to make his misdeeds more understandable – as if the everyday regular guy couldn’t possibly harbour regressive thoughts like those.
His character is even more muddled by the performative displays of feminism that Wilde has touted. We see him fumble around the kitchen as he fails to cook a roast dinner, donning a dainty apron that contradicts his traditional masculine appearance. He prioritises his wife’s pleasure in their numerous sex scenes. In Don’t Worry Darling, the men in power provide the illusion of equality, but Wilde’s press run suggests she sees Victory as some sort of feminist utopia. Speaking on Styles’ cooking scene, she said that him wearing an apron would send “a message that this man isn’t insecure about his masculinity and he is making himself equivalent to his wife.” What happened to Harry Styles, the incel? Would Jack be more of a real feminist if he just had a tradwife?
As much as we like to talk about feminist progress, sexism is still in the mainstream. At a time when women’s autonomy over their bodies is being debated, victims are being vilified for speaking their truth, and abusers run free, the desire to control women isn’t just the work of misogynist extremists – it’s the norm. The horrifying twist that upends Don’t Worry Darling belies the film’s feminist themes by, ironically, throwing a softball. Nowhere is that more apparent than in its rushed finale. Having murdered Jack and escaped the program, we see a faint glimmer of her dancing, bathed in sunlight. The ending is ultimately inconclusive, Alice’s future is left uncertain. But the jubilant, hopeful image of its protagonist posits a happy ending for her in the real world. Sure, reality isn’t imprisonment by VR, but it’s not sunshine either. To reach such a conclusion is not only odd – it’s naive.
Don’t Worry Darling is out in UK cinemas now