So…let’s talk about Don’t Worry Darling. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
I went into seeing this film for the same reason everyone else went to see it: for Harry Styles. As one of his first big feature films, the movie trailer caught the attention of many. However, Styles’ lack of experience seems to also be his downfall.
Don’t Worry Darling follows the narrative of Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles), a young couple who live in the utopian, squeaky clean Victory village as members of the Victory Project. Every day, Jack and all the other men go off to work in their 1950s style cars, while the wives clean their houses, listening to propaganda media, going to a strangely regimented ballet class, sipping martinis, and gossiping. In other words, the wives do “traditional wife things,” while the husbands do “traditional husband things.” However, the men’s occupation is unknown. The one price to live a perfect life? The women aren’t allowed to ask any questions.
Throughout the film, various propaganda statements are scattered around the environment to encourage silence of the women. Phrases like:
Eventually, after being prompted by another wife, Alice begins to become curious about the world she lives in, only to find she doesn’t like the answers she comes across — which are absolutely nothing. After enduring dead end after dead end in the search for answers, she begins to experience hallucinations and have visions, as she questions the very reality of her existence.
The most intriguing and engaging part of this film, in my opinion, is the quick and incessant gaslighting of women who stray from the norm and threaten the social status of men. Jack, among others, calls Alice “crazy,” ridiculous,” and “hysterical” like it’s second nature, without any regard for the psychological impact it has on Alice and other women before her. Jack uses manipulation tactics, like asking, “Do you love me?” instead of saying, “I love you.” This psychological damage furthers Alice’s downward spiral as she desperately tries to grasp what is real and what is not. It’s difficult, though, for a woman to trust her own judgement if every man around her is gaslighting her in the name of self-preservation.
This frustration and psychological turmoil from gaslighting is ultimately what makes Pugh’s performance so captivating — after all, her performance carried the film in almost every aspect. Women watching this film resonate with Alice’s character because they, too, have been called crazy at times and been made to feel wrong when they know in their hearts that they are right.
As the film goes on, Alice digs deeper and deeper into the mystery that is her life, damaging her relationships and social status in the process. Toward the end, it’s revealed that the entire “Victory Project” is a simulation that she was unknowingly forced into by Jack as an effort to live a “happy life.”
The real crime of this film, though, is not that Jack coerced Alice to spend the rest of her days in a simulation. The real crime, as Alice puts it: “You made me feel like I was crazy.” This, to me, was the most powerful message in the whole story because it carried through from beginning to end.
Once Alice learns that nothing around her is real, she makes a desperate attempt to escape, killing Jack in the process. The entire chase sequence was beautifully done, in my opinion, with stunning camerawork and angles such as a first-person point of view, wide angle shots of 1950’s cars speeding through a barren desert, it goes on. All critics can agree, where the film lacks in content, it makes up for it with style.
What’s the point of a stunning visual, though, if the foundation behind it is opaque? This seems to be where most critics struggle with receiving this film — many questions are unfortunately left unanswered, and the plot twists come too late in the film to have time to fully flesh them out. I was disappointed that we never found out what the Victory Project really is. Whether that’s an artistic statement or not, I believe it’s because the Victory Project never had a purpose to begin with, and writers didn’t feel like coming up with an explanation for it.
Critics struggle with a weak plot, along with the acting work done by leading man Harry Styles. As far as his performance goes, I didn’t think he was necessarily bad, but I do think it’s quite obvious the writing team had to dance around his abilities, or lack thereof. “Chosen Nationality: British” was clearly just an excuse to allow him to do his normal British accent for the majority of the movie, while everyone else is American. And, in the one scene where he had to be American for the plot, he was given very few lines, none of which were executed convincingly.
One critic noted that his real role in the movie was to be a “heartthrob husband of every utopian dream,” which I definitely felt he accomplished. So, does his character necessarily need to have depth if the story isn’t about him to begin with? He serves the plot point of being a part of this world that is the “perfect life.” Which, in turn, furthers the notion that a woman’s life can’t be “perfect” if it isn’t her life to begin with.
Needless to say, I don’t think his performance matters, because the real star of this film is Florence Pugh. Her acting and facial expressions are phenomenal, and her face tells the story better than words ever could. After this film, she is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood today.