DON’T WORRY DARLING
October 4, 2022
Criticism for this film has been often severe, but some top critics disagree and see this film as quite revealing. The film may appear superficial at first glance, yet it does tackle several socially relevant themes. The conversation about this movie will last until the Oscar season, with good reason.
Don’t Worry Darling: An American 2022 film from director Olivia Wilde, who is also part of the cast, presented at the Venice Film Festival as a prestige film and Oscar pretender.
A young couple, Alice and Jack, live in an experimental company town in the California desert called “Victory”, where husbands all work for the community company and all leave for work at the same time in the morning in their colorful cars of the 1950s, while the wives attend to the housework and occasionally go to ballet classes or sip a drink at the local gated community pool.
The community is led by a charismatic figure, the respected and feared Frank, half motivator, half preacher of sorts, whose motto is that “the enemy of progress is chaos”.
But Alice finds a sinister side to this experimental project, where wives sometimes are punished and drugged into re-entering the perfect housewife role they have committed to when adhering to the project.
There is an intriguing scene towards the end of the film, where Alice and Jack are involved in a totally different life, where Alice is a busy, overworked surgeon, an exhausted partner to Jack, living in a potentially violent large dirty city. In this intriguing scene, Alice and Jack tune into a virtual reality experience, leaving the spectator to wonder if the experimental company town is only a virtual and unreal experience, or their new life after joining the California desert community.
SOME INTERPRETATIONS AND COMMENTS
In offering a resumé of the critics, Rotten Tomatoes has described the film as “a muddled rehash of familiar themes”. Even so, says Max Weiss of the Baltimore Magazine, the film still reminds us of the gender imbalance and that this is a “conversation we need having”. Weiss adds that “critics have been too harsh on this film”.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud, a top critic from BuzzFeed News, believes that even though the story is “trying too many ideas at once…there is something there”, and he even compares it to the celebrated movie Get Out, in “extending a social ill to its furthest metaphorical limits, transforming it into horror”.
Charlotte O’Sullivan of The London Evening Standard, who also compares the film to the celebrated Get Out, tells us to “ignore the group think” and concludes that director Olivia Wilde is a misunderstood genius (and that the film) may be the best film of the year.
THE MOVIE SHRINK’S TAKE
Let us come back to the BuzzFeed News critic’s observation that the film may be “trying too many ideas at once”, which is indeed the impression that may be given by the story.
While agreeing partly with that first impression, let us go one step further and suggest that the realities that these numerous ideas represent are all real dimensions of social life: suburban life, womanhood, gated communities, law and order, quasi-religious fervor, politics, power, and virtual reality. These elements seem to fit together and to be simultaneously present and in interaction with one another in the film. They are all there “at once”, as it were.
Let us begin to unpack some of them.
The main element is suburban life, which ties into womanhood and feminism in that suburban life, at least earlier, at the height of its domination, did constrain women into limited roles. In the film, suburban life is associated with law and order (“the worst enemy of progress is chaos”), and also to religion, as the community’s leader appears as a preacher and guru of sorts. Of course, the trend of the community’s politics could easily be imagined as more conservative than liberal, which adds another interrelated reality: the politics of it all.
The final interrelated reality is the allusion to virtual reality, only briefly suggested in the film. Let us simply add here that virtual reality, as with many other information innovations, lets us imagine a different world, one that is very different from our own, a reflection of its opposite, drawn from our not-too-distant past.
Indeed, the film may be dealing with many ideas, which is a weakness for some. But it is also its strength.