Unpacking the Chaos of Don’t Worry Darling

Reem Abouchleih, Managing Editor

Content Warning: Sexual content, gaslighting, mentions of sexual coercion

Spoilers ahead!

Brief Synopsis:  Don’t Worry Darling is about a (presumably) 1950s housewife living with her husband in a seemingly utopian experimental company town who begins to notice odd occurrences around her, ultimately discovering the town’s hidden secrets. 

Going In Blind

Within minutes of the Don’t Worry Darling trailer dropping on May 2 on the Warner Brothers’ Youtube channel, Twitter users brought the video to the Big Blue Bird app, quote tweeting it with their conspiracy theories: the movie takes place “in a 50s simulation” and it is a “reinvented version of [Jordan Peele’s] Get Out”. Certain that I wanted to see the movie with no preconceived notions of what might happen, I blocked every word related to DWD on my Twitter feed. As expected though, videos of Harry Styles imitating Florence Pugh’s frown face and director Olivia Wilde’s insistence on including female pleasure scenes snuck their way onto my timeline. 

The Plot 

Due to my arduous efforts to keep the DWD plot description and spoilers away from my sight until after I had watched the film, I had gone into the movie with a few pieces of knowledge enforced upon me: (1) the female pleasure scenes were radical and subversive, (2) Florence Pugh balanced out Harry Styles’ suboptimal acting performance, and (3) the drama amongst the cast members was somehow trivial and crucial all at once (e.g. spitting in each others’ laps, not showing up to film premieres, sleeping with other people’s significant others). 

From its opening scenes, DWD demonstrated its memorability – whether that be memorable in the same way The Matrix is or Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is. DWD’s first scenes precisely show what kind of society the movie takes place in, with its vibrant 1950s setting evoking images of White suburbia and Levittown – attempting to persuade the audience of the quiet town’s unproblematic comforting nature. However, we as the audience then learn to judge the actions of our film’s characters better. When Alice (Florence Pugh) kisses her husband Jack (Harry Styles) goodbye after a heartbreaking attempt to convince him to stay home from work, she quickly gets into her daily routine – cooking a pot roast dinner, vacuuming the floors, washing the windows, and scrubbing the bathtub all while she listens an ominous male voice recite vague motivational quotes about ‘taking back your life’.

Brenton Wood’s criminally happy “The Oogum Boogum Song 1967” plays as Alice begins noticing these little cracks in her world – eggs have no membrane in them as Alice tries to crack them (not scientifically possible), the house’s glass window moves inward, crushing Alice as she cleans it, and Alice tries to suffocate herself with saran wrap before quickly removing it and realizing what she has done. If most other actors were to try and suffocate themselves with saran wrap I would find it laughable, but because of Pugh’s excellent acting chops, this scene reads as the most disturbing in the film’s runtime. 

This remains true for most scenes in the film. In a scene where Jack (Harry Styles) is receiving a promotion onstage for his ‘incredible’ work at the enigmatic company in idyllic Victory town, Pugh’s performance truly puts you in her shoes as a gaslighted housewife. This anxiety was accompanied by my heart dropping down to my stomach and a deep-seated fully-body nausea brewing. I wondered what was next as Alice rushed to the bathroom, in disbelief that her once-perfect life was shattered by her inclination that something was wrong. 

The Actors

As you may have been able to infer, Florence Pugh was single-handedly the most captivating aspect of this film – second only to Gemma Chan and Kiki Layne’s performances despite their short-lived appearances. This film transformed me and many others from Florence Pugh fans to full-blown stans, which is quite surprising considering I and most people have only experienced her performances in Don’t Worry Darling, Midsommar, and Little Women

However, the stellar acting ended there. Most of the other performances in this movie – Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Nick Kroll, and Douglas Smith – I found largely unimpressive and could have been replaced by any similar-looking person they could credit as “White Man #3”. Though it is unfair to put Chris Pine in the same category as the other three, he specifically did not bring anything to this role that most other men with deeper-than-average voices could not have. But in all fairness, this is not Pine’s fault, and the unanswered plot questions in regard to his character Frank did not help his case either. How did Frank create this simulation? What is Frank trying to work on at this base Alice stumbles upon? Why does Frank tease Alice in regard to her figuring out the truth and not take her away sooner so as to not compromise his vision?

The most notable weak link in the film was Harry Styles. As a former Directioner, it breaks my heart to say that Harry Styles is not an actor. Despite his few and far-between performances in iCarly and Dunkirk, Styles exudes a sort of ‘awkward naïve’ energy in front of the camera. Not in the way you would characterize Michael Cera or Audrey Plaza, but in the way where you can tell he is trying not to directly look in the camera lens as Olivia instructs him what to do. While I am unsure that Shia LeBeouf would have been able to do a better job, (considering his history of abuse, I would not want him anywhere near Pugh) I am certain that most other actors would not do the same Florence Pugh-esque frown Styles seemed to perpetually wear in the film. While I do not view Styles’ performance as particularly awful, there were certain scenes – most notably, his emotional breakdown in the car as Alice is taken away by the guards – where my friend and I audibly laughed in the theater. Director Olivia Wilde should have scrapped this meltdown entirely because it disrupted the intense heartache we felt as Alice was taken away by the red guards. If Styles were given a more average person to act alongside, the deficit in his acting abilities would not have been as apparent. Lastly, I found it hilarious that Styles, who was supposed to be American, was British in the film. In my perspective, Styles’ character’s accent was likely changed because he could not perfect an American accent for an extended period of time – relegating the accent to just five minutes after the film’s big twists came. To me, this becomes even more hilarious when I remember that Florence Pugh herself is British.

The Sex Scenes

Despite my intentions to go into the film completely ignorant about its contents, Twitter users had to give spoilers. When the first trailer dropped on May 2, my Twitter timeline was flooded with only one thing: the well-known scene of Florence Pugh’s Alice receiving oral sex from Harry Styles’ Jack. I must admit – because scenes of female pleasure on the silver screen are so rare – I was pretty excited. Because I had only heard about the scene and had not watched the trailer, I had reasonably high expectations. Wilde had previously commented that, “female pleasure, the best versions of it that you see nowadays, are in queer films… In hetero sex scenes in film, the focus on men as the recipients of pleasure is almost ubiquitous.” Wilde also commented that she wants the audience to “realize how rarely they see female hunger and specifically this type of female pleasure.” Because of this comment, I expected this famous eating out scene to be: (1) empowering to and for women, and (2) almost anti-pornography in its depiction because of this sentiment against only men gaining pleasure from sex. 

However, this scene – which was only about ten minutes into the film – did not meet either of those expectations. I found it agonizing how Alice throws an eight-hour roast beef dinner off the table as soon as Jack begins to kneel down (seriously, I cannot stress how crazy it is to essentially throw an entire Thanksgiving food display off a table just to be gone down on, especially when it is implied he always pleasures her). Aside from the ridiculous clean-up this would require, the female pleasure scene did not bother me… until the plot twist, that is. 

The grand reveal of the movie comes when the audience – and Alice – find out that in the real world Alice was a medical doctor named Alice Warren who lived with her unemployed poorly-groomed boyfriend Jack as she struggled to provide for them. Alice regularly works 30-hour shifts while Jack remains at home listening to patriarchal podcasts in his dusty, badly-lit bedroom. When she returns home, Jack nags her for sex, which she declines likely due to his unemployment, visible grimeyness, and general unappreciation for how hard she works. 

While some people on Twitter raved about how enticing the going down scene was, this twist completely ruined the aggressively-charged narrative of female sexuality Wilde tried to force upon it. In the context in which we initially see the eating-out scene Alice and Jack are in love in their beautiful 1950s home. Jack comes home from a long day of work, and Alice really wants to have sex – we can view a clearly consensual scene. However, as the audience watches the scene of Alice essentially being taken hostage and forcibly put into a simulation by Jack, the female pleasure scene no longer seems as consensual. Because the explanation of the simulation is confusing in and of itself, it is hard to say whether the female pleasure scene in the context Alice experienced was nonconsensual, but it certainly does not feel as consensual as we were led on to believe by Wilde.

If Olivia Wilde had never placed emphasis on the sex scenes in the manner she did – I, and presumably many others – would not have hyperfocused on these themes of female empowerment. In late August, before the movie’s release, Pugh spoke on the sex scenes and the public’s reception to them:

“When it’s reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it’s not why we do it. It’s not why I’m in this industry. Obviously, the nature of hiring the most famous pop star in the world, you’re going to have conversations like that. That’s just not what I’m going to be discussing because [this movie is] bigger and better than that.”

After these comments had gone viral on social media, Wilde did an interview with Variety about the movie’s sex scenes – an action some Pugh fans viewed as disrespectful because it placed the emphasis back on these sex scenes. Wilde is completely within her right to do this interview as director and actress, but I understand Pugh’s frustration with delivering an amazingly complex and beautiful performance and it being completely overshadowed by the sex. Furthermore, this feels like an attempt from Wilde to girlboss-ify sexual assault and coercion.

After watching this movie, I view the sex scenes, and especially the female pleasure scene, as being neutral. They are not empowering to women or constraining to women – in ten years, we will likely forget that these sex scenes were controversial, and they will be viewed as every other movie sex scene. 

Final Thoughts

Harry Styles was correct; this was a movie, a real go-to-the-theater type of film. 

The second I exited the theater, I immediately unmuted everything related to DWD on Twitter and began scrolling for an hour. My general thoughts about DWD is that people – at least on TikTok and Twitter – are quite critical of movies, and tend to ask questions already answered in the movie due to short attention span. There were many calling this movie all-around ‘garbage’, giving it abysmally low reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. However, I would not take this too seriously because many giving this movie a zero score tended to spout misogynistic narratives about how women cannot direct movies or calling the feminist message outrageous. A lot of the messages begin with “I believe in equal rights, but…”. (If you’re going to start your review like that, just stop right there. You can critique the movie without being sexist!) This is not to say that all the bad reviews were misogynistic, but most of the non-misogynistic reviews came down to the movie’s plot holes (a valid critique) or being confusing (which I can understand). 

From my perspective, the movie laid out most of the information clearly – borderline spoon-feeding to the audience at times – but there was an issue of overarching plot holes. Beyond the plane crash and Margaret’s son holding a plane when he went missing, what was the relevance of planes? Were the Victory men working on planes at the base or was this a decoy or Alice’s hallucination? How did Alice reach her body at the end of the movie? Do the glass walls at the base have supernatural powers that would allow her to transport back? Does Alice still live in the real world while she is in the simulation? We see her body laying on the bed next to Jack, but do all of her loved ones think she has gone missing, or did Jack give them a believable excuse to her disappearance? Why can only the men’s bodies be killed in the simulation whereas women’s bodies cannot?

One aspect of the movie I appreciated that comes with great timing, is the prevalence of male podcasters who spew hatred toward women and tell men how to “deal with females”. With people like Andrew Tate, and Fresh & Fit’s hosts Walter Weekes and Myron Gaines having gained alarming popularity, I found the movie’s use of women-hating podcasts run by men to be insightful. Even though Jack was unemployed and essentially “mooching off” Alice, he was still consuming hateful media that told him his problems were caused by women – the woman he claims to be in love with nonetheless – and that it is not his fault for trying to sexually coerce her. I find this especially amusing considering how these women-hating male podcasters were not famous when the script was written in 2019.

Overall, Don’t Worry Darling is an entertaining, well-produced movie that I will be watching again when it comes out tomorrow on Amazon Prime. I find it unfortunate that the on-set drama and perpetual talk about ‘empowering’ female sex scenes overtook the creative integrity Wilde tried to create, even if some of the drama and sex talk was her fault. While I would strongly recommend that you watch the film in theaters because of its epic cinematography and sound design, I recognize that a $15 price tag is a bit much on a movie you may be iffy about seeing in the first place. If you can afford to drop money on a movie you may find iffy,  do it! If not, it will still be a great watching experience for a $3.99 rental or on a free online streaming service. 

Nonetheless, one thing you cannot say about the movie is that it is uncreative. It is clear that Wilde and the entire cast wanted to go for something genre-bending, which was accomplished. 

Movie rating: 7/10! I have not had this much fun at the theater in months!