Caroline Ewing ’26 (She/Her)
What happens when you mix a retrofuturist aesthetic, Black Mirror-style plot, and highly attractive cast? Only one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2022. Directed by Olivia Wilde, Don’t Worry Darling is a thriller about Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) who are happily married in a 1950s idyllic community called Victory. The town resembles something like the one from The Truman Show meets the style of a Slim Aarons photograph. Every morning the men drive away in retro, colorful automobiles to the secret project they are working on, while the housewives scrub floors and attend ballet classes. With hopefully minimal spoilers, the first red flag of this society should have been the fact that this neighborhood is isolated in the middle of a desert. However, what tips Alice off is the fact that she has no clue what Jack does all day, and everyone but her seems to disregard the mental deterioration of fellow housewife Margaret (KiKi Layne) after she lost her son in the desert.
Before any criticism, I feel the need to defend cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who did an excellent job capturing the dream-like setting of Victory. He filmed in accordance with the path of natural sunlight, for example, so that when Jack came home at the end of the day the light would always be in front of the house. Or, he switched between camera lenses depending on the environment–the one he used inside Alice and Jack’s home was more subject to distortion, to capture the underlying unnaturalness of their home, whereas the one for desert scenes reflected the light’s flare, implying the radiating heat. In addition, a specific recurring motif was a circle of burlesque dancers filmed aerially in black and white, who are ominously moving in unison to create a foreboding sentiment. As she is waking up to the world around her, Alice keeps seeing flashes of this vision, and then later, this shot’s composition is then mimicked by Alice’s ballet class. Subtle artistic choices like this one contribute to the sense of eeriness behind the seemingly perfect, so that the viewer can recognize Alice’s devolution.
However, this also leads me to one of the shortcomings of Don’t Worry Darling. Wilde claims that the burlesque dancers “symbolized women as an object and then layering the idea into the shape of an eye tied it to the captivity and the mind of Alice” (James). In reference to the initial part of her claim, Don’t Worry Darling sets up for an allegory of sexism by using an idealized past and instituted gender dynamics. Obstructing this, though, is Styles’ underwhelming performance. Especially in comparison to Pugh’s well-delivering portrayal of hysteria, the almost neutral character of Jack really does not do much to further this plotline.
In fact, the plotline in general was certainly lacking. Despite Pugh’s outstanding ability to portray her character’s panic, it felt for so much of the film that this was all she was doing, until the plot twist within the last 30 minutes, which jumps into a jumble of incohesive, fast-moving information. Though the slow burn narrative can work well for some thrillers, here it instead sets up multiple questions that were then left unanswered: What was the deal with those burlesque dancers? What exactly happened to Margaret? Did we ever find out what the husbands were doing at work?
With such a stacked cast, rumors of drama between Wilde and Pugh, and speculation over Wilde and Styles’ relationship, it is no surprise Don’t Worry Darling got a lot of press. However, this only added to the anticipation of the film, making it difficult for it to live up to its expectations. Yes–despite the attractive cast. The result is definitely a mixed bag: an interesting watch, with plenty of well constructed scenes and ideas, however it has its shortcomings and is ultimately unsatisfying.
Caroline Ewing ‘26 (she/her) is an intended English & art history double major from Princeton, NJ. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com.