As a great philosopher once said, Don’t Worry Darling is a movie that feels like a movie—like a real, you know, go-to-the-theater film movie. And that’s true. Don’t Worry Darling is a movie that has characters and a plot; it has been written, directed, and produced; as of a few days ago, you can go to a theater and watch an edited and scored version of the footage that was filmed. Whether you enjoy that experience is a slightly more complicated question. So, it is here that I must ask you, darling: How do you feel about worrying?
There is no scene, no flashback, no Saran-wrapped visual that better forecasts the twists to come in Don’t Worry Darling than the title itself. Because there is nothing more annoying than being told not to worry when you know good and well that there is plenty of reason to worry. You could call it gaslighting, or you could—as Don’t Worry Darling ultimately does—call it the result of allowing men to freely create and consume podcasts. What’s especially odd, then, is how little time this allegedly feminist sci-fi thriller ultimately spends exploring any aspect of the feminism or science fiction that it purports to thrill us with. Almost as if to say: Don’t worry about it, just focus on the aesthetically pleasing synchronized dancing and the soothing autumnal hues of this mid-century-modern furniture.
Don’t Worry Darling’s simplistic twist that a man with a YouTube channel has radicalized other men toward a patriarchy that already exists is a complete reversal of vibe on a title we’d been having quite a bit of fun with before its true meaning was revealed. No “I’m starting to get a little worried, darling” tweet was too many during the weeks when the Don’t Worry Darling off-camera drama was erupting into a frothy (spit-y) lather. But as was revealed to the general public this weekend, the actual act of watching Don’t Worry Darling also provides the unique opportunity to furrow your brow for two hours, wondering what’s going to happen next—less because Don’t Worry Darling is a well-executed thriller, and more because of the external context and internal confusion that’s deeply woven into the viewing experience. Even after finally premiering in theaters, more reports have come out about Florence Pugh’s and other cast and crew members’ anger at Olivia Wilde’s alleged lack of professionalism on set. One of the film’s stars, KiKi Layne—whose screen time was surprisingly limited considering her talent and the character’s role as the sort of proto-protagonist—posted on Instagram about most of her scenes being cut. (She did, however, begin dating her on-screen husband, Ari’el Stachel, during filming—further proof that Don’t Worry Darling was perhaps a more successful matchmaking venture than filmmaking venture.) And then, of course, there are the many reports (tweets) of nervous laughter from audiences during what should be some of the most heightened emotional moments of the film.
All this to say, the darlings are worried; they’ve been worried; they remain worried. You may be heading into Don’t Worry Darling with some amount of hesitation over whether the movie will be as disastrous as its press run, or maybe you’ve already read reviews and are wondering if the worst possible scenario—that the movie is neither revelatory enough nor disastrous enough—could really be true. Having now seen the movie more than once, I am here to tell you that while some of our initial worries were unfounded, there are also moments, and themes, and wigs for which you never could have imagined you’d need to prepare.
So for all the darlings who would prefer to be spoiled, and for those who believe that, somehow, worrying feels good in a place like this, I present to you the “Do Worry Darling” Don’t Worry Darling Worry Scale, arranged in order of least to most worrying.
Threat level: Strolling through Venice with an Aperol spritz
Following Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) as a blissfully wedded couple living in an idyllic community called the Victory Project, created by Jack’s boss, Frank (Chris Pine), the entire first half of Don’t Worry Darling is Easter-egg-hued cocktail dresses, big crystal tumblers full of brown liquor, pals pal-ing around, and tabletop oral sex. What’s not to like? The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is vibrant and strategically synchronized, but just enough off-center to be eerie. Costume designer Arianne Phillips’s tapered-waist game is undefeated. Pugh’s curtain bangs are enough to make you weep, and even when she starts crushing hollow eggshells in her hands with a strange look in her eyes, it is a gorgeously strange look. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view, for it is marvelous. (And if you have earplugs, you could go ahead and put those bad boys in now.)
Threat level: Simply Do Not Worry Darling
As for Don’t Worry Darling’s disgruntled star, Pugh’s performance in the movie proves just as strange, nuanced, and daring as her performance in the press tour. In absence of clear plot development, Pugh’s mounting looks of confusion, realization, and disgust are one of the only elements that successfully ramp up tension in the film. Even in a movie that may not ultimately deserve her, she can charm and fret and challenge with the best of them. When we are with Pugh, we are in good hands.
The Box Office
Threat level: Breaking even
Whether in spite of or, more likely, because of, the movie’s IRL drama, Don’t Worry Darling is doing just fine at the box office following a $19.2 million opening weekend. You may get shushed by a One Direction fan, but never forget that they are a paying One Direction fan, and whether they mean to or not, their ticket sales may be taking a little worry off Olivia Wilde’s back.
Kate Berlant’s Comic Timing
Threat level: Some laughter is good laughter
Comedian Kate Berlant, mostly missing from the more bonkers moments of the press tour, is a wildly pleasant surprise in Don’t Worry Darling’s ensemble. Anytime she’s on-screen as the forever prim and pregnant Peg, explaining how hors d’oeuvres are her love language, she is making a meal of the subtle shifts and vocal tones that color her real-life comedy. I swear to you, she does more to lend credence to the final twist with a hand in her husband’s face and pug-like head tilt of confusion than any amount of wigs they throw on Harry Styles. I would like to watch more of the movie that she is personally starring in, please.
Harry Styles’s Chemistry With … Nick Kroll
Threat level: Bro-ing a little too close to the sun
As it turns out, that mouth kiss at the Venice Film Festival was canon! Styles is at his most natural on-screen when he is experiencing true joy, and never is he more joyful than when he is sharing scenes with Kroll. Much like the movie itself, Styles seems to never want to leave the carefree cradle of having drunken 1950s fun with his pals. Unfortunately, Jack and the movie must begrudgingly move on to whatever the hell is secretly going on in Victory that just keeps on making the women smack their heads against mirrors.
Harry Styles’s Accent
Threat level: Narrative suggestion not to worry about it
Trailers for Don’t Worry Darling made it hard to tell if Styles was attempting to adopt an American accent, or perhaps purposefully adopting a bad British accent. But in the end, it seems he’s just using his normal, somewhat unpredictable British accent to stretch out words like “opportunity” into five-syllable meals. And while you may find yourself worrying about some of Styles’s line readings, narratively speaking, there is a built-in explanation for his confounding cadence. As is revealed late in the movie, Jack is an American who simply decided he wants to take on a British identity, because …
Threat level: Jordan Peterson
Three-quarters of the way through the movie, it’s revealed that the Victory Project isn’t actually an idyllic opportunity for 1950s men to study “progressive materials,” but is, in fact, a futuristic virtual reality program where men can force regressive gender norms onto their wives (or maybe sometimes even women who aren’t their wives—I’m really not sure, and we really don’t find out!) by trapping them inside a 1950s Metaverse Matrix without their consent. In the briefest of scenes, we see an unhappy modern-day Jack who’s recently lost his job. While his wife Alice is away being a doctor, he’s busy listening to podcasts featuring a host that sounds suspiciously like Frank, telling him that together they can restore the world to “the way it’s supposed to be.” At some point—I say that not to yada, yada but because it is completely unclear—listening to podcasts turns into getting recruited for the Victory Project, drugging and entrapping Alice, chaining her to their bed, and forcing her into a virtual simulation via eye lasers that convinces her she’s a housewife whose sole purpose is to serve and support her husband. When the husbands go off to work, they are, in fact, reentering the real world for a few hours a day to work and maintain the upkeep of their wives’ host bodies. That Styles/Kroll bromance isn’t so adorable now, is it?
The twist is revealed both too late and too quickly, but on its surface, it’s not so bad: a sci-fi thriller that deals in radicalization-by-content is an interesting concept, especially in an era of aggressively dickish, alpha-male podcast hosts. Unfortunately, the more—but still very little—we find out about what the movie has to say about that concept, the less interesting and more frustrating it becomes.
The Allure of Chris Pine
Threat level: A lot of people should be scared, and I’ll name ’em
For some unclear reason, Don’t Worry Darling aims to open our eyes to a period of feminism that ended about 40 years ago. Even for Jordan Peterson types, whom Wilde has said the Frank character is based on, getting women out of the workforce and back into the kitchen doesn’t seem to be an utmost priority to restoring male-dominated world order. So the only worry my eyes were ultimately opened to is the fact that I would absolutely follow Chris Pine into a cult with little more persuasion than him wearing a short sleeve knit shirt. (I have to imagine listening to him talk about masculinity on a podcast would only be a deterrent, but what do I know—I’m not being lovingly supported in my time of need by my doctor wife Florence Pugh.) The fact that there aren’t 20 more scenes with Pine after the reveal that Frank has somehow created IRL Sims for incels is unforgivable.
Justice for Gemma Chan
Threat level: Time to worry, assholes
And speaking of unforgivable: What the hell happened to Gemma Chan’s character in this movie?
In The Ringer’s Don’t Worry Darling exit survey, the most resounding complaint was the lack of explanation as to why Chan’s character, Shelley, spends the entire movie dutifully enforcing order among Victory’s women as Frank’s elegant wife, only to turn around and suddenly stab his ass once it’s revealed that Alice is on her way to escaping. As the knife goes in, she says, “You stupid man—it’s my turn now.” And I really cannot reiterate enough how unclear it is what she means by that. We’ve seen no evidence that her ballet class is some long-con revolt against Frank, nor that she was actually the one in charge all along. I have to believe the movie would have been better off simply leaving Frank alive, with the suggestion that his whole Metaverse operation is about to get got by Dr. Alice—you know, the protagonist that we’re supposed to be rooting for?
The (Actual) Housewives Commercial
Threat level: Scary Island
I didn't care about Don't Worry Darling in the slightest until now pic.twitter.com/T1cw120KPt— Aidan (@aidanthereup) September 16, 2022
When Dorit Kemsley calls up her acting coach (her acting coach is PK) in order to shill for a movie you’re excited to see … it’s time to start worrying, darling.
Threat level: My darlings? They’re worried
One of the only genuinely disconcerting moments in this movie is when Frank calls Jack onstage at a big party and gives him a public promotion that reads much more like a threat. They then wordlessly decide that Jack will do a dance performance for the crowd that goes on for an uncomfortably long time, and it’s never clear whether Jack is doing it of his own free will. For a moment, it makes Frank’s power and control over Victory seem truly worrying …
And then we just never find out why it happened, what it meant, or how Frank became the Daddy Incel.
Harry Styles’s Incel Makeunder
Threat level: Screaming, crying, throwing up
As my Ringer colleague Kate Halliwell said: “Incel Harry is something I can never unsee. Never before has my fandom been so thoroughly tested.” I know there are lots of reasons Harry Styles fans want to see this movie—some of them pure, some of them noble, some of them decidedly rude—but please prepare yourself appropriately. Jack’s prosthetic blemishes, stringy wig, and canned-tuna-scarfing makeunder is the sole indicator of what could have broken so violently inside of him that he would forcefully take away his wife’s free will and then scream at her that he’s giving her an opp-uh-toon-i-y. Again, the movie is attempting to bridge that gap with a wig—that’s how bad the wig is. Proceed with caution, darlings.
Threat level: Haunted like Hill House
“I wanted it to be a hot movie that’s a good time and that if later it leads to some conversations, that’s great.”
Wilde is right: The mark of a good movie is when you’re still thinking about it days after you’ve watched it. Unfortunately, that occurrence is not exclusive to good movies. A few times a day since I first saw Don’t Worry Darling, I have been stricken with a new question for which I not only don’t have an answer, but I also barely even have a foundation to speculate. What were all those earthquakes that the women thought were caused by their husband’s top-secret jobs? What actually are the men’s jobs? Jack says that he has to leave Victory every day to make money, but we don’t know if he’s the webmaster for Frank’s very special incel software company, or if he’s keeping a roof over his wife’s kidnapped head with a normal nine-to-five. (In which case, what was the point of this, my guy, just a slightly more submissive approach to cocktail hour???) Further, how is Frank keeping any of this a secret with dummies like Jack as his subjects? Do the trapped women have friends and family who are looking for them? When Wilde’s character Bunny says she’s “always known” what Victory is, does that mean she figured it out like Alice and decided to be fine with it, or did she submit herself for entry like Jack? And if so, how did she stumble upon the Joe Rogan of Leave It to Beaver masculinity? Is she trapping her husband in there, or did they agree to do eye lasers together? Why do the men die in real life if they die inside the program, but the women don’t? Oh, and one more thing: What caused Alice’s red-pill plane crash inside a mind-controlled environment, and why was that completely unexplained phenomenon ON THE MOVIE POSTER?
The Female Pleasure Problem
Threat level: Midnight
It would have been reasonable, heading into Don’t Worry Darling, to worry that the rumored conflicts between director and star may have affected the cast’s performances, or even our perception of their performances. But if that is the case, it’s not incredibly evident. Ultimately, what is far and away the most worrying aspect of watching Don’t Worry Darling—and the only lingering effect of its disastrous press run—are all of the things that Olivia Wilde said about its portrayal of sex and female pleasure.
Speaking to Variety about Don’t Worry Darling, Wilde wondered why only queer films ever focus on female pleasure from the female point of view. Elsewhere in the same profile, she seems especially proud of Don’t Worry Darling’s portrayal of sex when she says, “Men don’t come in this film. … Only women here!” Now, the sex in Don’t Worry Darling may be seen through the lens of woman, but … as a reminder … this woman has been trapped inside a virtual world by her 4chan-trolling husband. Simply showing a man going down on a woman is not feminism, especially when it can’t be consented to on account of … every single thing set up by Don’t Worry Darling’s twist. (This ethos doesn’t really work on a narrative level, either: Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense if Victory was a male-orgasm-only neighborhood?)
Also, if going down on your wife is what triggers her to realize that she might be trapped inside a male supremacist virtual reality world, then maybe it wasn’t all that pleasurable through any lense, in any world, in any movie … darling.