‘Don’t Worry Darling’ isn’t too victorious

Drawing featuring Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh next to symbols of the movie, "Don't Worry Darling" such as a car and a phone.
Kathryn Aurelio | Daily Trojan

For a film titled “Don’t Worry Darling,” there seems to be a lot of worries for those involved (and plenty of “worry” jokes to go with it, like this one). Directed by Olivia Wilde, “Don’t Worry Darling” has been the subject of intense controversy, mostly regarding the alleged tensions between cast and crew. Perhaps this notion of behind-the-scenes drama alludes to the plot of the film where what’s going on behind the scenes may be darker than one realizes. 

The story of a young suburban housewife Alice (Florence Pugh), “Don’t Worry Darling” follows her as she realizes her idyllic bliss is the product of ominous secrets. At the beginning of the film, viewers are introduced to Alice and her husband Jack (Harry Styles). They live in Victory, an exclusive community modeled after the 1950s. When Jack goes off to work, Alice stays home and does house chores, and occasionally hangs out with her friend, Bunny (Olivia Wilde), by the poolside. Everything seems peaceful here: a perfect vacation, except this is life. 

The women are given almost everything they want – but are cautioned not to venture outside the boundaries of the community and into the desert. These rules are set by Frank, the architect (Chris Pine), who essentially rules over the community along with his beautiful wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan). 

Alice always lived by the rules. That was until her former friend, Margaret (Kiki Layne), broke the most important one: she ventured into the desert. As Alice witnesses the community’s attempts to suppress Margaret, Alice begins noticing that something is amiss in the neighborhood. Jack refuses to tell her what exactly his job is, and Alice begins experiencing frightening visions and occurrences. These all contribute to Alice’s pressing need to figure out exactly what’s going on that the women don’t know about. 

Even if it feels like a riff on “The Stepford Wives” (1975), which it has been compared to, the concept of “Don’t Worry Darling” is wholly immersive. “Don’t Worry Darling” is a master of atmospheric creation. The pastel colors, the 1950s vibes, the Palm Springs setting and the literally forbidding desert — all of it is a cinematographic work of art. 

Many scenes in the film are designed to elicit a visceral sense of suffocation, such as the moment when Alice literally wraps her head in saran wrap and later when the wall closes in on her, smushing her face against the glass. The scene is not only evocative but well-incorporated. 

However, by the end of the film, the origins of these incidents aren’t clearly answered. Nonetheless, these scenes have left their impact on the viewer, especially in rendering Alice’s growing sense of paranoia about her surroundings. 

The story is a case where more exposition earlier on would have paid off immensely. While the viewer is introduced to the loving relationship between Jack and Alice early on, there is seemingly no mention of why staying in Victory and working for the Victory Project is so important to Jack. Put simply, the stakes of leaving are unclear. Given that he appears to love and care for Alice so deeply, Jack’s insistence on staying in Victory feels confusing and almost uncharacteristic.

Throughout the beginning half of “Don’t Worry Darling,” viewers only get the perspective of Alice and Jack as they exist in their current lives for the Victory Project. Their past lives are unknown until much later. While this does lend some degree of mystery to the story, it also presents many questions that conflict with the plot’s unraveling. How did Jack and Alice find themselves in the Victory Project? Why is the Victory Project so significant? 

There’s also perhaps the most pressing question of the entire film, the one that Alice is attempting to find out: what exactly are the men doing in Victory headquarters?

Even by the end of “Don’t Worry Darling,” the answer to the third question remains unclear. 

In fact, it’s relatively unanswered. The film focuses all its attention on promoting the disintegration of Victory. With the filmmakers expanding so much upon the logistics of the residents’ arrival, the central mystery of Victory headquarters seems to slip from their minds. The background of Victory is intriguing — there’s no doubt about that. However, many character motivations end up either dismissed or lumped together.

Along those lines, many of the husbands and wives living in Victory are characters that offer room for exploration, but lack nuance until the very end. This aligns with the film’s main issue: the first half of the story has Alice gradually discovering what’s wrong with the community, while the second half is Alice trying to overturn it. Sure, each plot point is well-structured and engaging in a dramatic manner. Character dimensionality, though, particularly that of Bunny and Shelley, comes too late and is rather inconsistent with what viewers have already seen. 

Florence Pugh is absolutely radiant in her role as the loving wife Alice and, needless to say, she’s the heart of the film. Although Harry Styles offers his own skills to the role of conflicted husband Jack, Pugh shows audiences why Alice is the main character. Her transition from content housewife to a woman desperately looking for answers is (unsurprisingly) well-done. Pugh’s performance raises the film’s rating by at least half a point, if not more. 

In addition to the questions raised by the plot, there are also questions about the story’s themes. What sacrifices will we make to achieve this illusion of happiness? Is progress really just a vision of the past? Most importantly, what is love? 

“Don’t Worry Darling” sets up many conflicts and spends a lot of time building them in the story, leaving little time to fully flesh anything out. A lesser amount would have made all the difference.