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 has dragged along in the two years of production, what remains of the second film of Olivia Wilde movie director? A 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 back to the sci-fi genre? And how are the feminist demands that Wilde tries to carry out 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 built by an experimental company that hosts, together with their families, the men who work on a top-secret project. While husbands spend every day inside the Victory Project headquarters working on “developing innovative materials,” their wives spend time enjoying the luxury of their community. Behind the apparent frame of perfection, however, there are hidden mysteries that Alice will try to unmask.
Olivia Wilde is confronted with a theme already widely used: as you can guess from the first moments, in fact, that of 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 relegated to bed at the decision of their companions, who every day “leave” Victory to return to the real world, where they work to support trapped women. In the evening, then, they return to the virtual fireplace, where perfect housewives are waiting for them.
To represent Victory, Wilde chooses an overly didactic and banal style. The virtual community, inspired by the 1950s, is constantly illuminated by a bright and omnipresent sun, the city appears plasticized, so much so that, at a certain point, we see the protagonist’s finger in the foreground sliding 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 with The wives 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 “sneaks” here and there, but it hurts. Among the most recent products that have addressed the topic, too Black Mirror it was inspiring: the concept of consciousness “shifted” 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 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 feminist instances of the film creep in (but we’ll get to that later).
In Don’t Worry Darling, Wilde uses (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. Because, as she confesses to any desperate housewife that she wants to break free from the chains of the family nest, Alice is slowly being marginalized by her anxieties and her hallucinations. In fact, the woman, after having ventured into the desert, a place halfway between the community of Victory and the outside, begins to slip into a spiral of psychosis, just as if she were, in fact, split.
On the contrary, men, while venturing every day on this forbidden path, returning to their real body, come out unscathed. 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 upon. Starting with his antagonist, the charismatic Frank played by Chris Pineor his wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan), whose final choice seems 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 nearby 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 the participants of Victory (such as: are couples with children not accepted?). , try to carry on.
The sci-fi and feminist motifs give way in a didactic, conventional, and always timid way, with the result that they never express themselves 100%. And it is 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 have crossed the twentieth century, continues to be exclusive to women , and economic and work emancipation is not enough to free women from their burden.
The women worked long shifts, like Alice, who in real life is a doctor, only to go home and have to think about dinner or washing the dishes. In all of this, she must also be pleasant towards her partner. From here, the husbands, who not by chance meet on the internet (where communities of incel and related ones are in abundance), 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 the words of Frank (“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 oral sex scene that Jack practices on Alice. The expectation, therefore, was for 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 balance mystery, action and final message, with the result that only the final part – the one, that is, in which Alice runs away – is well calibrated and creates the right suspense.
Furthermore, the film is totally based on the performance of Florence Pugh, which pierces the screen even with so little material. Harry Styles is terrible. He certainly wasn’t ready for a starring role, but there is a base 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 notable debut, Booksmart. It’s a pity that Don’t Worry Darlingmuch more ambitious than its predecessor, did not meet expectations.