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Film / Don't Worry Darling

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Don't Worry Darling is a 2022 psychological thriller film directed by Olivia Wilde. Wilde's second directorial effort after Booksmart, the film stars Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Wilde herself, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine.

Jack and Alice Chambers (Styles and Pugh) are a happy young couple living in Victory, California, a fictional 1950s town created and paid for by the mysterious company Jack works for. While everything is seemingly perfect, curiosity over the nature of the town's work and her husband's work begins to consume Alice, who starts to discover secrets that shatter their seemingly idyllic life.

The film was based on a spec script written by brothers Carey and Shane Van Dyke that made the 2019 Black List. The two are credited as co-creators of the film's story alongside Katie Silberman, who did a rewrite of the brothers' script that became the film's screenplay.

The film had its premiere at the 2022 Venice Film Festival on September 5, and got a wide release on September 23.

Previews: Official Trailer

This work contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: An oppressive system requires the participation of at least some of the oppressed to function. Shelley and Bunny are more active (and vicious) about keeping the other women in their place than the men despite knowing the true nature of Victory. And the exact second Bunny stops doing so and helps Alice, the whole system breaks down.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Frank announces that Jack has received a promotion to "the special advisory council", then "suggests" that Jack dance in celebration. Jack dances his ass off, but his expression is desperate to please Frank rather than joyful. He's shown to be very exhausted after performing for Frank's amusement.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Are some of the strange events that Alice experiences — the plane crash, the crushing wall, and the empty eggs in particular — hallucinations? Are they glitches in the program? Or is someone in control of the program, like Frank, deliberately messing with her? It could also be the real world trickling into the program — for example, the crushing wall could've been caused by Jack tightening her restraints on the bed.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • Alice's growing suspicions motivate her to press Jack about exactly what kind of work the men are doing in Victory Headquarters. He tries to hide behind confidentiality, but her persistence makes it clear that won't satisfy her. All he can do is mumble and really say nothing. Answering truthfully would lead to him becoming a Broken Pedestal for Alice, and Et Tu, Brute? (which happens eventually anyway). And Jack (given what we learn of his real life) wouldn't have anywhere near the scientific knowledge to come up with a good lie about his supposed work on "progressive materials".
    • Also, Alice's questions to the other wives that reveal that their stories of how they met their husbands are identical.
  • Attempted Rape: Jack tries to force himself on Alice in the climax of the movie. It's implied that, since they've previously had good and enthusiastic sex, Jack believes Alice will "give in", which he believes will repair their crumbling relationship.
  • Beauty Inversion: Harry Styles is made to look less handsome and composed as Jack's real-world counterpart, who has an unflattering beard, greasy long hair, and baggy clothes.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Jack and the other men joined Victory because they wanted to be completely cared for by their loving, doting wives. However, the "upkeep of their chosen wives" requires them to keep the women hydrated, provide nutrition, and administer sedatives. In short, the men have to completely care for their "wives," the opposite of what Frank had been preaching to them.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Frank ultimately turns out to be this. Despite presenting himself as a strong and influential figure who will lead the Victory Project to change the world, his power doesn't go any further beyond the boundaries of his own simulation. While he has dedicated members, he has far less reach and influence in the real world as his presentation would suggest, and it's heavily implied that his real world counterpart is simply a misogynistic nobody spouting his outdated views on an obscure podcast. In the climax he can do little to stop Alice when she ultimately tries to escape, and he's easily killed by Shelley, who then takes over the project.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Jack appears as an attractive and highly successful man who is a seemingly very affectionate and supportive husband to Alice. The whole package seems like a dream come true for any heterosexual woman in Alice's place. The movie even drops suggestions that he may be just as much a prisoner and victim of Victory as Alice is, with Frank wielding coercive power over him. However, he ultimately turns out to be a slovenly loser in the real world outside of Victory, imprisoning Alice's consciousness as a Fetishized Abuser within Victory for his own selfish desires.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Alice kills Jack, whom she genuinely loved, after learning of his betrayal, and the other women are still trapped in Victory while Shelley usurps Frank and plans to keep the operation going. However, Alice herself still escapes. Her actions also may prompt the other women to rebel and escape, and Alice herself can potentially expose Frank's operation in the real world and have Victory shut down for good.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The Token Minority Margaret slits her own throat in front of Alice, though every other person who dies is a white man.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: A recurring hallucination that Alice has is of a group of female dancers doing an elaborate dance in a circle formation reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley musical. Given that it's shown when Jack enters the simulation, it's presumably a way to ease the participants' consciousness into the simulation.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: When Alice wakes up after her first experience at Headquarters, she finds Jack in the kitchen trying to make her dinner, having made a complete disaster of every dish. This sweet and funny moment feels far less sincere after a later flashback shows that the real Jack was never considerate enough to try making his own meals in the real world and always expected Alice to do it for him, even when she was working long hours at the hospital. While holding her in the simulation, the best Jack can do is eating directly from a can.
  • Chained to a Bed: Jack keeps Alice tied to a bed in their apartment while they're in the Victory simulation.
  • Chekhov's Skill: It's mentioned early on that Alice is the only woman in the neighborhood who knows how to drive since Jack has been teaching her. This becomes useful when Alice has to evade Frank's men and escape the simulation by driving all the way to the Victory Project headquarters.
  • Classified Information: Victory seems to be loosely based on Los Alamos, the town where the Manhattan Project, aka the atom bomb, was developed, right down to the men of the town working on some top-secret project. Throughout the film we hear what appears to be underground explosions that rattle the town, leading to rumors that they are working on a weapon. It turns out there is no secret project, and the men are leaving the simulation each day to work real-life day jobs to fund their lives in Victory. The "explosions" remain unexplained.
  • Close on Title: The name of the film is not shown until the very end.
  • Co-Dragons: Frank the Big Bad Wannabe has two Dragons who help him maintain control over Victory.
    • Dr. Collins uses methods that appear like medical techniques within Victory itself, with the objective of preventing the women of Victory from gaining the awareness that they're trapped in a virtual simulation. It's also mentioned that Dr. Collins helped create Victory, suggesting that he developed the program for Frank.
    • Shelley exercises a twisted yet subtle kind of maternal authority over the women, as exemplified through the ballet lessons, an exercise in More than Mind Control.
  • Company Town: The small town of Victory was founded and run by Frank as part of his Victory Project, and is continuing to expand with a so-called "Phase Two". It's later revealed that Victory is actually a simulation, and the male residents are willingly taking part in it while most of the women are forcibly trapped.
  • Cosmic Deadline: The main twist isn't revealed until well over half the runtime and then it takes longer still for Alice to realize what's truly going on and react accordingly. Prior to this there are only vague hints as to what's happening and by this point there isn't much time left, so the movie rushes through the climax (in span of about 20 to 15 minutes Alice realizes the Victory Projects is a simulation that she and most of the other women have been forced into, confronts Jack and accidentally kills him, finds out Bunny knew all along but stays because her kids are dead in the real world, and gets into a car chase to escape the simulation while Frank is killed by his wife elsewhere). The ending resolves the storyline abruptly and ambiguously, leaving a lot of dangling plot threads and unexplained elements.
  • Creepy Ballet: Alice goes to ballet class, and the cinematography emphasizes the repetitive motions and identical moves. Then she sees a woman in the mirror bash her head against the wall, causing her to scream... but when she looks back, nobody is there.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Frank and Dr. Collins could have sold their fully-immersive VR simulation to video game developers and made an absolute fortune, instead of having a small subscription-based service for their misogynistic fan base.
  • Daylight Horror: Some of the cracks in Victory start showing during the day, such as Alice noticing a plane ripple in the sky and randomly crash into the mountains. Alice ends up watching Margaret slit her throat and fall down the roof during the daytime.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Frank's real-world counterpart is reminiscent of "incel" commentary channels, especially how they lure insecure young men who feel unloved and looked down upon into following their harmful rhetoric. Many of these commentators also idolize the old-fashioned patriarchal values of the mid-20th century, hence why the simulation is reminiscent of the 1950s.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Alice was genuinely in love with Jack, at least within Victory, and she feels increasingly betrayed by him worse and worse as the story progresses. It starts when Jack won't believe her when she tries to voice her suspicions about Margaret and about Victory itself, caring more about his place in Victory than about her. It gets even worse when Jack sides with Frank when Alice tries to force a confrontation, betraying Alice to the red men when she tried to make good their escape from Victory. The feelings of betrayal reach their highest point when she realizes that he took her entire real life away from her and has been keeping her consciousness captive in the Victory simulation.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: At least in the simulation, it seems. When Alice tries to escape, she tricks two of the agents' cars into hitting Dr. Collins, whose car then explodes.
  • Evil Counterpart: Shelley for Bunny. Bunny also seems aware that Victory is a simulation and a willing participant in it, unlike most (if not all) of the other wives. However, she does so because her son died before the events of the film, and Victory allows her to pretend that he isn't gone. Shelley, too, becomes aware at some point of Victory's artificial nature, but she actually kills Frank so the simulation can go on unchallenged after Jack's death, with no indication that she'll stop the widespread abuse.
  • Fake Brit: In-Universe. Jack is American, but chooses a British nationality in the simulation.
  • Female Misogynist: Shelley is aware of the true nature of Victory, and she actively works to keep the other women under control. When Frank allows Alice to escape, Shelley kills him and takes over Victory with no indication that she's going to free the other women. After all, her stated issue with Frank was not that he was misogynist, but that he was stupid. Bunny seems like this at first, ostracizing Margaret and shaming Alice for behaving badly by the standards applied to women within the faux-Fifties framework of Victory, but her true motivation is to protect the illusion where her children are alive.
  • Fetishized Abuser: Jack is very attractive, and much of the film's first act focuses on how much Alice enjoys having sex with him; Wilde herself has spoken at length of how she wanted to emphasize female pleasure in the film's sex scenes. However, all of this occurs in the context of Alice being heavily brainwashed and conditioned by the simulation; in reality, Jack kidnapped her consciousness and psychically raped her. Even when Alice is about to escape, she hesitates with a final memory of him declaring his love for her in bed, suggesting the insidiousness of his abuse and how she still feels attached to this false memory.
  • Foreshadowing: Dr. Collins brings up the British phrase "keep calm and carry on" during his visit with Jack and Alice. While the posters were made during World War II, they were virtually unknown until the 2000s when they were rediscovered and became a Memetic Mutation, a big clue that this isn't actually taking place in the '50s. Jack's awkward inability to answer Dr. Collins's question "What is it you British people say?" also hints that Jack isn't actually British.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: During Frank's party, Alice sees Ted and Margaret talking. When Margaret says something cryptic about having bad dreams, Ted closes the shades. For a split-second, real world Alice being tied up in her bed can be visible.
  • Gaslighting:
    • Alice is implied to have been captured, rendered unconscious and returned to her Victory home after the first time she approached the Headquarters portal. Jack tries to convince her she took a very long nap at home from exhaustion, and actually didn't see a plane crash near the Headquarters.
    • Multiple people try to convince Alice that Margaret only gave herself a minor cut and is well on her way to recovery, contrary to Alice vividly remembering that Margaret slashed her own throat to commit suicide.
    • After she invites him and some of her other friends to a dinner party, Frank approaches Alice in the kitchen and tells her that he's been waiting for someone to challenge him and implying that her suspicions are correct, knowing that she will try to expose him later over dinner. When she does, Frank then gaslights her and makes her look delusional in front of Jack and all of their friends.
    • All of the men, plus Shelley and Bunny, are aware of the true nature of Victory, but behave as if women who notice that something is wrong are mentally ill or simply misbehaving like children.
  • Gilded Cage: Victory has lovely houses, friendly neighbors, and quite a few amenities. If one were to choose that life freely, it would probably be a wonderful place to live. Unfortunately, the town's female population are all being held there against their will.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Though Frank's real world counterpart is not seen in person, it's revealed that he created the Victory simulation and used his online broadcasts to convince Jack and other men to forcefully place their lovers and other abducted women into it. After killing Frank, Shelley then declares that she is taking control of the simulation, apparently planning to keep it operating despite Alice's escape.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Bunny helps Alice escape the Victory simulation, but only after the situation has become truly irretrievable. Until then, she's even more vicious than Shelley about shaming and ostracizing anyone who threatens the illusion where her children are alive.
  • Hotter and Sexier: In comparison to Olivia Wilde's previous film, Booksmart, Don't Worry Darling has even more of an emphasis on sex, to the point of being outright described by some as an erotic thriller. Jack and Alice have sex on multiple occasions, a minor plot-point revolves around Jack deciding he wants them to have a child in Victory, and Alice eventually kills Jack when he tries to force himself on her in the climax.
  • Housewife: Alice and the other women in the film all fulfil this role, staying in the neighbourhood to cook, clean, and go shopping together while their husbands spend the day working at Headquarters. It's indicated that Jack and the other husbands are actually spending their time away in the real world, making money and other arrangements to ensure the Victory simulation keeps going.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: While Jack and Alice have been married for some time, they cannot keep their hands off each other and act as if they're on a perpetual honeymoon, making out and having sex with each other every day when Jack gets home.
  • Irony: Alice's flashbacks to the real world show that Jack was lazy and entitled to the point that he not only didn't have a job, he outright refused to make his own meals and expected Alice to do it after working extra long hours at the hospital. Jack reveals in the climax that he finally did get a job in the real world, but only to finance the simulation and keep Alice imprisoned in the world he prefers where he can be an adored breadwinner... and he's still whining about how he hates to work.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: After Alice fails to convince Jack to leave Victory, red-suited men forcibly take Alice and Alice loses her black flat. Later, she falls out of her heels when she reclaims her real-world memories and spends the rest of the film barefoot.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Victory project turns out to be a virtual reality simulation that Jack forces Alice to stay in, in the real world.
  • Make Way for the New Villains: Shelley stabs Frank after he fails to prevent Alice from learning the truth about Victory, which will also kill him in the real world. She declares that "it's my turn now", indicating she may take over the Victory Project and whatever comes next.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: At the beginning of the film, Jack performs oral sex on Alice on their dinner table, while all the food is still there. They later have sex at Frank's house party, with Frank himself watching silently, to Alice's discomfort.
  • Meaningful Rename: A dark example. Alice uses the surname "Warren" in the real world, which is presumably her own family name. However, her name is changed to "Chambers" in the Victory simulation, reflecting the fact that married women in the 1950s assumed their husbands' last names - which is ultimately another means for Jack to assert control over her.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Jack and Alice's apartment doesn't look much better when Jack is essentially living alone while she is in the simulation. The best he can do to feed himself is to just eat from cans.
  • More than Mind Control: The women do have their minds entrapped with Victory, with the memories of their past lives erased, but Victory itself is constructed to be as luxurious and utopian as possible, with the intention that the women never develop any desire to leave or any awareness of what's really going on.
    • Frank and Shelley utilize techniques within Victory itself to reinforce control over the women. Jack gives daily public Rousing Speeches about how they're working together towards a wonderful future. Note also his denunciation of chaos as the enemy of order, which the other men are only too happy to support.
    • Shelley playing the Stern Teacher is another example, as shown when she corrects Alice's posture at multiple points during the women's mandatory ballet training. Those kind of posture corrections do occur as part of ballet training, but within Victory itself, it's Shelley exercising her authority and keeping the other women firmly under control.
  • Never My Fault: When Alice learns the truth, Jack claims that he did this because Alice wasn't happy in the real world, ignoring how he was the one who was more clearly dissatisfied with their lives in reality.
  • New Era Speech: Frank is full of speeches about how Victory is going to change the world and how the world belongs to the men of Victory.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Chances are, Frank and Jack might have been able to keep Alice imprisoned in Victory if Frank hadn't issued his Worthy Opponent challenge to Alice. It becomes a contributing factor to Alice developing the awareness and determination to break free of Victory. Shelley seems to have come to that conclusion as well, as she calls Frank a "stupid, stupid man" when she kills him.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used To Be:
    • The film's 1950s setting is frequently used to bring up the vast differences in societal expectations from the modern day and how many insecure, misogynistic men would still prefer to live in that decade.
    • Frank's real world counterpart created the Victory simulation to bring back the traditional values of the 1950s, intended as a form of escapism from the "chaos" of the modern day. While Jack and the other male residents benefit from this, coming home from their workday to find cooked meals and loving wives waiting for them, the women are literally trapped against their will in a monotonous cycle of cooking, cleaning, and remaining submissive to their husbands.
    • When Margaret, and later Alice, begin questioning the purpose of the Victory Project, they're dismissed and reprimanded for defying the men in charge and are even treated as hysterical and unwell. Dr. Collins puts them both through brutal but era-accurate "medical" treatments, such as prescribing pills and shock therapy, to prevent them from learning the truth.
    • Alice's flashbacks in the real world reveal that she was a hardworking doctor running the surgery ward, while Jack was a lazy, jobless manchild who stayed at home all day and still expected her to clean and cook for him after a 30-hour shift. Jack was so desperate to go back to old-fashioned patriarchal values that he chained Alice up to their bed and forcefully placed her consciousness in the Victory simulation, assigning her the role of a stereotypical housewife and completely robbing her of her own life and agency.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Jack's rationalization for everything he does. He convinces himself that Alice hated her old life and loves her new life in Victory, and that this excuses him kidnapping her into said new life. She lets him know in no uncertain terms that it doesn't. He probably expected to be able to use this rationalization after forcing himself on her physically - see Sex Equals Love below - but she kills him before she'll let him take her agency away again.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: During Jack's argument with Alice his British accent starts to fluctuate noticeably. (Played with, as the actor's British accent is real but the character's is fake.)
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Margaret's depression is said to have been caused by her young son mysteriously disappearing when they left Victory and walked out into the desert. With the later revelation that the children in Victory are only part of the simulation, it's implied that her son's "death" was simply Margaret realising that he wasn't real to begin with.
    • When Alice tries to explain that Bunny's children in Victory are not real, Bunny reveals that her real children somehow died before she joined the simulation. This notably makes Bunny the only woman in Victory aside from Shelley to be there both knowingly and willingly, and while she helps Alice to escape, she refuses to go with her.
  • Politically Correct History: Unusually for a midcentury America setting, there are several people of color in Victory, CA in longterm interracial marriages.note  Subverted, as the film is actually set in the modern day, and Victory is a nostalgic simulation of midcentury America that kept out the racism but kept in the patriarchal aspects.
  • Psychological Projection: The most charitable interpretation of Jack's Never My Fault moment above, as he assumes that Alice was unhappy with their real lives because he was unhappy. He ignores the fact that Alice was only so stressed and tired because she had to work long hours, which she mainly had to do because Jack didn't have a job and still expected her to do everything for him, and she otherwise seemed content and even proud of her work at the hospital. If anything in their real lives was making Alice unhappy, it was Jack himself.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Though the film cuts to black when Alice reaches the door of Headquarters, she can be heard offscreen drawing a breath, implying that she's woken up back in the real world.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • An early scene has all the men in their business suits and flashy cars exit the driveways at exactly the same time, stop at exactly the same distance in the cul-de-sac, and drive away together to work in a perfect line. It deliberately conveys the impression that Victory seems more like a perfectly controlled machine that runs like a watch, a virtual simulation, instead of a physical Company Town.
    • Alice sees a biplane crash near Victory Headquarters. She's immediately overcome with the desire to help whoever crashed in the plane. Is it a manifestation within the Victory virtual simulation that Alice is starting to feel discontent with her "perfect" life in Victory? Is she wanting to leave her picture perfect life as a housewife and return to her real life as a doctor, even if she doesn't consciously realize it yet?
  • Sex Equals Love: Jack seems to believe this, and when things begin to spiral once Alice learns the truth about their relationship, he attempts to force himself upon her. This prompts Alice to shatter a glass over his head, killing him.
  • Sex in a Shared Room: Jack and Alice have sex in Frank's house with Frank watching them. Alice notices him, but it's unclear if Jack does.
  • Shout-Out: The Skeleton Dance plays on an endless loop in Victory.
  • The Slacker: Jack is heavily implied to be this in the real world. For the brief flashes that Alice remembers, Jack is messy and unkempt, doesn't have a job, and spends the entire day on his computer listening to Frank's podcasts while Alice works 30-hour shifts at the hospital, even being too lazy and incompetent to make his own meals while she's gone. He only gets an unspecified job when he needs to finance the Victory simulation to keep Alice under its control, and even then he complains about how much he hates working.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Implied. In the flashbacks, Jack can be seen dragging Alice's body just prior to hooking her up to the simulation.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Frank makes a lot of speeches about how Victory is going to change the world, and the world will be theirs. The men, who know the truth of Victory, seem to believe him. A throwaway line reveals that there are fewer than 100 people in the Victory simulation, half of whom are the unwillingly participating women. The men, rather than working on some world-changing material or technology when they go to work, are going to standard day jobs in order to keep the simulation financed. Victory isn't so much a wide-reaching and influential conspiracy as a small cult of personality built around a charming reactionary misogynist with a relatively obscure podcast who hang out in a glorified video game.
  • Spotting the Thread: During the dinner party, Alice points out that each of the women has an identical story of how they met their husband: they were both on a train to a big city, she dropped her ticket, and he picked it up.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Jack and Alice live in the picturesque, idyllic 1950s California desert Company Town of Victory. Jack and the other husbands go to work in the day; Alice and the other wives spend their days drinking, cooking, cleaning their beautiful homes, and enjoying various community amenities. However, Alice becomes increasingly unsettled when things aren't as they seem. Victory is later revealed to be a simulation where the women are forcibly kept by their husbands.
  • Surreal Horror: After her experience in the desert, Alice experiences numerous "hallucinations" (cracking open eggs with no yolks, being compressed by the glass window against the wall of her house, having visions of creepy dancers and drowning).
  • Token Evil Teammate: Shelley for the wives of Victory.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The husbands in the climax, after Alice kills Jack and the illusion starts to crumble. Each breaks down in a way that reveals what kind of person they really are in real life. One becomes violent and abusive, another becomes a weeping manchild, etc. Frank also starts to lose his composure before he is killed by Shelley.
  • Worthy Opponent: Frank outright tells Alice that he hopes she becomes one for him and apparently finds himself disappointed when it seems she can't come up with anything more subtle than trying to openly challenge him in front of the other dinner guests. His challenge to her turns into a case of Nice Job Fixing It, Villain, as it spurs her to escape from the virtual simulation that is Victory.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: If you die in the simulation, you die in real life. The designers and willing participents were aware of this going in, as Bunny is able to tell Alice this after she kills Jack. Dr. Collins and Frank both are on the receiving end of this as well, though we never see their bodies.


Video Example(s):


Victory Project

Something is off about the picturesque 1950s suburb named Victory Project...

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