Don’t Worry Darling is one of the most talked about films of the season, and not for artistic reasons. Beyond all the drama that the film dragged on in the two years of production, what do we have left of the second film by Olivia Wilde movie director? Little. Indeed, very little.
To talk about this film, the right question to ask is not so much whether it is a good film or not. The point is: what does it have to add new to the sci-fi genre? And how are the feminist demands that Wilde tries to bring forward managed? The answer to both questions is not positive.
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in the idealized community of Victory, a city created by an experimental company that hosts, together with their families, the men working on a top-secret project. While the husbands spend each day inside the Victory Project headquarters working on “innovative materials development,” their wives spend their time enjoying the luxury of their community. Behind the apparent frame of perfection, however, mysteries are hidden that Alice will try to unmask.
Olivia Wilde competes with a theme that is already widely used: as can be guessed from the first moments, in fact, Victory is a virtual reality where it is possible to transfer consciences and live a parallel life. The problem, however, is that the women of the community (indeed, the wives) are not aware of this. Their bodies are confined to bed at the decision of their companions, who “leave” Victory every day to return to the real world, where they work to support the trapped women. In the evening, then, they return to the virtual hearth, where perfect housewives are waiting for them.
To represent Victory, Wilde chooses a style that is far too didactic and banal. The virtual community, inspired by the 50s, is constantly illuminated by a bright and omnipresent sun, the city appears laminated, so much so that, at a certain point, we see the protagonist’s finger in the foreground slipping on a miniature reconstruction of the community. In short, Wilde wants to recreate a sense of perfection as much as of estrangement, as had already been done by Peter Weir in The Truman Show, by Bryan Forbes w/ The Wife Factory in 1975 and, again, from the Frank Oz remake with The perfect woman (2004). In that case the wives were robots designed by another woman, but the imagery created and its morals were very similar to Don’t Worry Darling.
Olivia Wilde “snatches” here and there, but she does it badly. Among the newer products that have addressed the topic, too Black Mirror was inspirational: the concept of consciousnesses “moved” from one reality to another was central to the episode White Christmas, with some differences. First of all, the virtual reality of Black Mirror, that of the digital assistant, is actually hell for the new consciences, which however exist as a copy and paste of their originals. Human beings, in fact, live their lives quietly, with a part of themselves hidden in an Alexa or Siri well aware of being trapped in a box. And this is where the film’s feminist claims creep in (but we’ll get to that later).
In Don’t Worry Darling, Wilde uses (far too many times) the metaphor of the mirror, already used, indeed, overused in the past to suggest not only the existence of two physical or temporal planes, but also the slow descent towards madness. For, as befits any desperate housewife who wants to break free from the shackles of the family nest, Alice is slowly being marginalized because of her anxieties and hallucinations of her. In fact, after venturing into the desert, a place halfway between the community of Victory and the outside, the woman begins to slip into a spiral of psychosis, just as if she were doubled.
On the contrary, men, despite venturing every day on this forbidden road, returning to their real body, come out unharmed. It is not explained why, but the reason is easily understood: it is a world made for men, by men. There are so many other points that the script barely touches. Starting with his antagonist, the charismatic Frank played by Chris Pineor his wife, Shelley (Gem Chan), whose final choice appears unclear: why, when Alice is about to leave Victory, does she kill Frank? For revenge? To take her place? What happens to the other wives? And what is the story of the neighbor Bunny (played by Wilde herself), there of her of her own free will? And if the children are not real, there is a special clause for Victory participants (such as: couples with children are not accepted?) In short, we have little but confused information about this world, which overlaps with the message that Wilde, awkwardly , try to carry on.
The sci-fi motif and the feminist one give way in a didactic, conventional way, and always timidly, with the result that they never express themselves 100%. And it’s a shame because it could have raised an intelligent reflection, which goes beyond the obvious message “women are free to do what they want”: care work, despite the feminist waves that swept through the twentieth century, continues to be exclusively female , and economic and working emancipation is not enough to free women from their burden.
Women worked long shifts, like Alice, who in real life is a doctor, only to come home and have to think about dinner or washing the dishes. In all of this, she must also be attractive towards her partner. From here, the husbands, who not by chance meet on the internet (where communities of incels and the like are abundant), decide that it is time to change course by reassigning the roles that society attributed to women before the feminist revolution. A parenthesis to which the film dedicates a few minutes, which transpires from Frank’s words (“we repudiate chaos”) and from the scenes set in the real world (represented in a very didactic way as a gray and rainy reality).
On the feminist theme, however, Olivia Wilde wasted long speeches on the scene of oral sex that Jack performs on Alice. The expectation, therefore, was of a representation that could overturn the canons we are used to, but even in this case the director does not go beyond what we have already seen in the past. Indeed, she does not last long and adds nothing to the plot.
The feeling is that the director wanted to try to keep mystery, action and final message in balance, with the result that only the final part – that is, the one in which Alice runs away – is well calibrated and creates the right suspense.
Furthermore, the film is entirely based on the performance of Florence Pugh, which pierces the screen even with so little material. Terrible instead Harry Styles. He certainly wasn’t ready for a leading role, but there is a foundation of skill. After all, Christopher Nolan had managed to do him much more justice with a small part in Dunkirk.
Olivia Wilde comes from a remarkable debut, Booksmart. It’s a pity that Don’t Worry Darlingmuch more ambitious than its predecessor, has not lived up to expectations.