Don't Worry Darling: Another 'Good Girl' Film
When the trailer for Don't Worry Darling came out, I was very excited for it. It looked like a concept out of Black Mirror with feminism and a statement about patriarchy. This is the first time we meet Alice, brilliantly played by Florence Pugh, a housewife in the 1950s living in the Victory Project, a cult-like community, who discovers her life is not what it looks like. As one of my uni tutors used to say, we can't blame a director for not making the film we imagined which I fully agree with. So, what about the film that got made? Plenty of spoilers ahead so keep reading at your own risks if you haven't seen the film.
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The film opens with Alice and Jack (Harry Styles) as he leaves for work. We discover a suburb with rows of houses, the same cars in different colors, all women standing on the porch waving their husbands goodbye as the cars leave one after another in a carefully choreographed procession.
We follow Alice in her housewife routine. She seems to be the main character and the one we are meant to root for. We notice there are some issues with that place when she cracks the eggs but nothing comes out. I thought it was some kind of cult. It is mentioned several times that it is a community you join so it seemed a bit weird that none of them ever mentioned their lives before. Little did I know I put the finger on something that will be central to the narrative.
My main issue with the film is that it centers around a female character trying to take back control of her life and make sense of her surroundings so I expected it to be about her actions, the ones she took to investigate her world, her setbacks and eventually us finding out with her the truth about the place she lives in.
But the film is all about men. They are the one to drive the narrative. It is about what they do to control the women and how all of them comply. Even Alice doesn't break free or really pushes back. All of her actions are motivated by external factors - men's actions.
She doesn't investigate her surroundings. She tries by stealing the doctor's files but then gives up quite quickly. The leader Frank (Chris Pine) admits that something is wrong and somehow it pushes her to accuse him in front of everyone knowing he would deny and make her seem crazy. She knows what happened to her friend so if it was me, I would pretend until I had some kind of proof.
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The fact they never admit at the very end that she was right all along make the accusations of hysteria sexist. For too long, women have been called hysterical and crazy for standing up for themselves, for asking for better treatment and equality. Hysteria was first coined as a physical illness in women to explain an "excess of emotions". Basically, if you were not a calm, submissive woman then you must be crazy. Hysteria is a tool to control women and undermine them in front of others. That was a cheap trick for a film with that premise.
Her investigation ends almost as soon as it begins as she is sent into the psychiatric facility for electrochoc treatment and forgets everything. In itself, it could be an interesting event if we knew what the reality was but because it arrived before any substantial discovery, it felt like the exciting part ended before it even began.
Even at the very end, she doesn't run away after killing Jack. It takes Bunny (Olivia Wilde) to tell her to go and the goons in red to arrive for her to make a move. As I said before, her actions are externally motivated. She is passive and she reacts to men's actions but never initiates them. This privilege of being active is reserved to male characters.
In a film directed by a woman and with a woman as a lead, I would expect Alice to do, to be active and not passive. This film perpetuates the passive sexist narrative structures that have dominated the film industry since its inception. In 2022, we can do better and we have to do better. This was very jarring to me since I saw Bodies, Bodies, Bodies not that long ago. It is a feminist horror comedy that beautifully depicts the complexity of female relationships and women as human beings when Don't Worry Darling failed to give Alice ownership of her life.
Because it is what the trailer promises, the story of a woman who finds out the truth about her seemingly perfect life and breaks free. It was supposed to be a story of retaking back control.
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Instead, as Frank said to Alice, she asks questions but still behaves like a good girl which is exactly what this film does. It has enough elements to perpetuate gender washing and pretend to be feminist but actually keeps the women tightly under control with no real power whatsoever and challenge no one. The most interesting parts of the film happen ten to twenty minutes before the end when we discover this is all a simulation. Jack is an incel who couldn't stand being unemployed while his partner was outearning him so he trapped her in a 1950s simulation without her consent.
We also discover that Shelley, Gemma Chan's character, has very strong feelings about all of this when she kills Frank, the leader and husband. How much did she know? Why did she wait until that point? Why is it never brought up before? And apparently, Bunny knew everything. Even the way Alice remembers doesn't come from within her. After shock therapy, she hears Jack singing, both in the simulation and in the real world, a melody she never heard in the simulation and it prompts her to remember her life before. She didn't do anything for it. Again, he initiated that.
If the revelation is to come so late then it would have been interesting to see her investigate the world. Or if you want to do it like this, have it come twenty minutes in so the rest of the film can be about how she escapes and destroys this nightmare.
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Because the film never takes a stand, the concepts it is giving a platform to are very dangerous. Incels are killing women all around. There has been several shootings from men part of incel communities who feel like women owe them sex and attention.
It is something that is very briefly brushed on as we see Jack listening to a podcast from incel Frank, creator of the Victory Project. It is never fully explored and never established those views are unacceptable.
Just as it is never fully explored what the control over the women meant for the real world. It is not just Alice but other women too who are forced to live in this world without consent.
At a time where America has gone back on abortion and bodily autonomy, Italy pushes back and american groups try to influence abortion policies in Scotland, the film not taking a stand is pretty damning.
You could watch it and feel like she was just crazy and that he was justified into doing what he did. After all, according to certain politicians that would not be out of place in The Handmaid's Tale, women's place is in the kitchen cooking and cleaning for their husbands, and, as said in the film, men are responsible for their wives. We never even see her really escape so it is left to the audience which means a lot of sexist men can look at it and think she never escaped which is a very dangerous precedent to set. Questioning women bodily autonomy and not making consent as a non-negotiable in fiction means we are inviting dangerous behaviours into reality. We can debate about the influence of fiction but fiction is often used as a political tool to impose norms and behaviours on people and show what is acceptable.
That's what the Hays code was for and even though we don't have it anymore, the idea to use fiction to impose norms on people still remains. Don't Worry Darling never sets up patriarchy as the system it is. Patriarchy not only traps and destroys women but men too. To combat those kind of worlds, we need to show the system and how it maintains control over all of us.
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The film also lacks representation. It is not inclusive or intersectional. We see diversity on screen but only one black woman has lines, one asian woman has lines but they are never really part of the narrative.
We know very little about them and they are extremely interesting characters. I don't understand why Olivia Wilde had to play Bunny. This role could have gone to someone else and she could have taken a smaller part. Even the newly arrived Violet is white. The film only represents a very white upper class type of feminism and even fails at that.
It doesn't take race, class, sexual orientation, disability into account and how it impacts people in a world like that. There are sexist men that will be from a lower class than Jack but would still want to be part of that world. There are disabled men and women. It fails to consider in its entirety the problem it is trying to tackle.
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And that is before we even get to the drama around the film. If Harry Styles was paid more than Florence Pugh, I would be livid too. And if Olivia Wilde says in interviews that she is for equal pay, why can't we have a number?
In other film pay disputes, studios have released actors' pays to prove their statements. It would be very easy to do unless they had something to hide and it would certainly put an end to some rumors. It seems shady for them not to do it. It should be the norm to disclose pay to make sure no discrimination happens behind the scenes.
Florence Pugh does the heavy lifting and we all know he is there to bring in the box office and not really here for his talent as an actor. He doesn't measure up against Florence Pugh. He might become a good actor but he lacks the experience for this kind of role.
The drama with Shia LaBeouf also casts a shadow over the film. He was rumoured to be fired by Olivia Wilde because of Florence Pugh wasn't comfortable doing the sex scenes with him.
But it later came out, he stepped down and Olivia Wilde tried to make him come back. You can't claim to be feminist and pretend to protect your star so you can take credit publically and do that behind closed doors. At least, she could have owned her mistakes.
It makes you question the real message behind Don't Worry Darling. I am all for female directors but I am firmly against feminism washing. Being a woman doesn't mean you are automatically feminist and good for women - just take a look at Liz Truss or Giorgia Meloni.
The film had everything to be the next feminist genre-defining hit but the vision is poorly executed. It is beautifully shot and has a lot of style but cruelly lacks substance. And I am tired of films that pretend to be feminist but are just as sexist as all the others.