Don't Worry Darling is a beautifully shot film with an ending that solidifies it as the Stepford Wives' negligible step child. Ghouls share what happens in the film, the big twist, and why we're left wanting more or even something else altogether. Can love and the Patriarchy coexist?
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Don’t Worry Darling (2022)
While her husband leaves home everyday to work in a top secret facility, a young 1950s housewife begins to question her life when she notices strange behavior from the other wives in the neighborhood.
Director Olivia Wilde
Don't Worry Darling: White Feminism Nightmares
by gabe castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Alice and Jack are perfectly in love. They live in the idyllic, suburban, desert wonderland known as Victory. Jack works for the mysterious, undefined Victory Project while Alice maintains their perfect home. She makes him breakfast in the morning and sees him off with a sweet kiss on the cheek, waving goodbye as Jack leaves in his fancy car along with every other man in Victory as they drive off into the nothingness of the desert to ??? do something seemingly important and oh so top secret. Alice spends her days lavishing in luxury: taking the charming trolley to the “town” with her fellow housewives and besties, they “window shop” and charge their husbands cards, they dance in perfect unison during ballet class, and when her day of fun is wrapped, she cooks a several course meal and meets her husband at the door with his favorite drink.
As you can imagine, all is not well in Victory. Something sinister is afoot. When Alice notices the slow descent into instability of a former friend and only Black woman in the film, Margaret, things start to become increasingly bizarre. The film leans heavily on the charm and nostalgia of the Mad Men/Stepford Wives surrealism, inspiring a seemingly obvious commentary of the era of nuclear families and casserole (oscillating between 40s, 50s, and 60s inspo) without ever commenting anything. Throughout Alice’s mundane existence and the slow realization of something being off, we catch glimpses of a haunting dance scene. One in direct opposition to the uniformed, graceful movement of the wives in class, this one is staggered, haunting and a canary to things being wrong.
After Alice witnesses the attempted suicide of Margaret, again the only Black woman in this film and the first “death.” A woman she and the other wives have dismissed as crazy, hysterical, and worthy of dismissal. Margaret sensed something was wrong, had taken things into her own hands to prove that and it’s caused her great pain, the loss of her son and the trust of her community. After Alice witnesses a plane crash, a plane resembling the toy plane Margaret’s son had been playing with in the desert before he “went missing,” Alice finds herself in the desert too, seeking answers. What she finds is more answers and her own dose of gaslighting. Margaret, thinking she could trust in Alice, isn’t she too becoming aware of the problems in this society? Only to be shunned and even after her attempted suicide, presumed death, is dismissed, forgotten, and overwritten. Now that Alice knows something is up, she’s the chosen one. Now, its a problem.
Margaret’s death or almost death mixed with bizarre glitch-in-the-matrix moments like Alice finding an egg in her carton to be nothing but a husk or her being squished between a pane of glass and her walls in a vivid, suffocating daydream, paves the way for Alice to begin digging into the truth of Victory. She begins confronting anyone and everyone, crying out to be heard, only to be met with more gaslighting and the occasional “You’re being hysterical.” (a phrase that should be banned, who even says that anymore? Just because your film is supposed to take place in the for-fift-sixties, doesn’t mean you have to write like it).
But what is actually happening at Victory? We’re all dying to know. What’s the meaning of the plane? Why was her egg empty? Why did the cult-like leader, Frank (who somehow finds time to not only run an important life changing company and community, but also star in both radio and TV programs?) get off on watching Alice and her husband “fuck?” Honestly, what’s his obsession with her? What's the deal with the other women? Great news! You can watch the whole film and never get a single answer, in fact, you’ll have more questions!
Twist Time, bb:
The big reveal of Don’t Worry, Darling, is on the surface interesting. As a short film, or even a short story, it’d be brilliant even. For a film so reminiscent of Stepford Wives, I enjoyed the twist being different than I expected. Watching a second time and knowing the twist made some of the subtle dialogue options feel tongue in cheek, like I was in on a joke. But boy did this twist muck it all up. Alice isn’t a housewife. She’s actually a fucking surgeon. She and Jack had been in love and after he lost his job, Alice took on more shifts. While she worked her ass off to provide for them out of love and her obvious care for human lives (outside of the simulation), Jack falls victim to a toxic masculinity and incel podcast (of which there are so many - though Frank is fashioned after Jordan Peterson, a disgusting, pathetic man). “We based that character on this insane man, Jordan Peterson, who is this pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community,” Wilde said in an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Wilde explained to Gyllenhaal that it [incel] refers to “involuntarily celibate,” “basically disenfranchised, mostly white men, who believe they are entitled to sex from women.” Frank, the very real monster podcaster informs his listeners of a new project which can transport you and the woman of your choosing, a woman you as a strong, powerful and deserving man are owed to the idyllic simulation of Victory.
Plots like Swiss Cheese (Full of Holes): Here’s where things get super sticky and mucked up. Jack, now with a job, is able to afford access to advanced technology. He must take responsibility for Alice’s life and is only allowed in the simulation for a certain amount of time which is why all the men leave in the morning to go work. But he is the only one responsible for her, so who takes care of her during the day while he’s at work? Has no one asked about her? Where is her family, her coworkers, her friends? And if Alice does awaken in the end, her body is definitely atrophied and full of bed sores, there’s no way she’d be able to leave before those behind Victory could get to her to silence her first. Why did any of the glitches happen? Why was the plane the same as Margaret’s son? Is Frank that bad at developing code? All these questions aside, the ending is lackluster and ultimately disappointing. It provides an answer without showing its work. As viewers, we never feel the relief of understanding, of watching the film playback and knowing now why those things occurred. To feel an answer to the dread that was building for the audience and Alice alike. I am reminded of the story of the lamp, told by some Redditor in which he lived an entire life after an altercation only to one day awake and find something off about his lamp. He didn’t know what was wrong or why, he just knew. Eventually, he determines the lamp isn’t real. In fact, none of his life for the past however long years has been real. Upon this realization he wakes from a coma. This twist, in a short Reddit thread, is far more compelling and emotional than the revealing moment offered by Wilde. A sad, “gotcha” moment that leaves us more confused than satisfied, and that is really only the first of many issues with the film.
White Feminism Rears its Ugly Head: Because as much as Wilde was trying to say something with this film, her head in the right place, completely missed the mark. In all the ways she attempted to make this a feminist piece, what she did create was a white feminist place which is historically harmful to the movement as a whole. If we are not trying to liberate all of us, then we liberate none of us. The integral part of white feminism is this understanding of things being wrong because they have now become inconvenient to them. We discussed this at length in our Handmaid’s Tale episode. But further, with that limited understanding of injustice, there is concurrently a desire to maintain the status quo just enough to shift the power to them. If we dismantle the system completely, how then will they benefit?
Wilde, in that same interview with Gyllenhaal explained [about the incels], “They believe that society has now robbed them — that the idea of feminism is working against nature, and that we must be put back into the correct place.” Which isn’t untrue but is ignoring the nuance of this specific stand. When I see this theme of “Men are bad” or this anti-feminist, patriarchal society, I see one of the barriers of progress in two specific characters: Frank’s wife Shelley and Alice’s best friend (played by Wilde herself), Bunny.
In the dramatic ending where Alice finds herself fleeing for her life after murdering her husband once she’d realized the truth, Frank discusses how to stop her over the phone before Shelley murders him. The murder is confusing and completely unfounded. With Alice, we saw the evidence and the slow realization, Jack’s murder felt justified and expected, Shelley’s was perplexing. Even more confusing is her whispering to him, “Now it’s my turn.” Your turn to do what, hun? Run Victory? Are you real? Do you know what this is? For a woman who had, throughout the entirety of the film, praised her husband’s brilliance and in just a few scenes prior publicly scolded Alice for her outburst, it's a bizarre move. What would she gain except control of this machine? A machine that she would undoubtedly keep running.
Bunny, we learn, has known about the simulation all along. She’s in it willingly, one of the only women to be here willingly, and it’s to be with her kids. Her kids she spends little time with, mind you. She knows the truth, the ugly injustice and pain of it and still works to uphold the system for her benefit. She degrades the other women if they falter and pushes the narratives hard and more successfully. Why wouldn’t we trust a woman, who like us, is trapped here? She reminds me of the Wives in Handmaid’s Tale or Rose from Get Out. I think of the quote by Peele where he mentioned there are no good people in Get Out. There are no good people in Don’t Worry, Darling. When she revealed her truth, at first I was sad to hear about her children but immediately I felt betrayed, truly betrayed. The lengths this woman went to, the harm she knows is being done and still, she maintains the status quo for her own benefit.
Intersectionality? Never Heard of Her: Already discussed were the issues with Margaret’s character who was so quickly dismissed and pushed to the side. I was incredibly disappointed by her death and that it was in fact the first, the catalyst for this white woman to then find the truth. Because the truth from Alice’s mouth matters so much more. In several articles and reviews, I saw mention of Alice being the only one who knew what was going on. (Shout out to Sophia S. Pasalis, at the Harvard Crimson for actually saying it out loud ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Review: A Drama That’s Accidentally a Comedy | Arts | The Harvard Crimson, “The film centers on Alice, a white woman inspired to question her surroundings by the discoveries of Margaret (Kiki Layne), a Black woman who serves as a catalyst for Alice’s character development. “Don’t Worry Darling” is ultimately an exploration of white womanhood with a half-hearted attempt at inclusion, illustrating a “symmetrical” experience of femininity that is seemingly possible only between white women.”) Or being the first to question. But her clues were from Margaret. Without the overt tropes of the magical negro, Margaret is indeed that. Which digs further into the white feminism lens.
Kat - Something that’s interesting about this piece of media is it seemingly unintentionally reaches a point where it pokes White Feminism but doesn’t do anything meaningful with that poking. It presents us with the character of Margaret, a Black woman who is our first death, and also the turning point of the film, who is calling out what is happening and is not believed. This character is where the film lost some of its nuance for me, because this character was treated like every other woman character being victimized by the patriarchy, without respecting the additional layer of what it is to be a Black woman under the patriarchy, and as an intersection to white feminism. This character was swiftly abandoned by her white friends the second she stopped acting the part, with really no sympathy or care. Only to be discarded as fodder, never really to be touched on again. This makes the reveal at the end of the film, and Alice’s escape from Victory, feel lackluster. It makes the reveal of Olivia Wilde’s character spoilers knowing the whole time….extra gross. Because I don’t think Olivia Wilde was trying to point out what Margaret’s character actually did, that all the white characters in this film were willing to sacrifice Maragaret for their own benefit and safety. That they never cared about her enough to give her the same chance they gave Pugh’s character…to be free, to escape, or have autonomy.
No Man Comes in this Film and What a Win That Must Be, Right Ladies?: Lastly, I’ll say this. Even the white feminism is lacking in this film. This film isn’t feminist in the slightest. Wilde was proudly advertising that “no men come in this film.” before its release. She wore the phrase like a badge of honor. She claims it was due to her not seeing enough female pleasure on screen. And sure, that’s true enough. But babe, this is not the place to combat that. In an article on the Daily Beast titled, Harry Styles and Florence Pugh’s Sex Scenes in ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Make No Sense, writer Esther Zuckerman explains, “In the movie, these moments just speak to the confused nature of the allegory that Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman have created. If they are making a film about the stifling weight of the patriarchy, why is their heroine having such a good time sexually? The character portrayed by the lusted-after pop star is revealed to be a sniveling men’s rights activist-type who is so threatened by his wife’s career that he imprisons her, so she quite literally cannot do anything but serve him. So what is he doing, uh, serving her?”
So what is this film trying to tell us? Men are bad and incels are dangerous? For sure, I agree. The Patriarchy and Toxic Masculinity are harmful, but to who exactly? Jack suffers by finally getting a job and pursuing a hobby he’s into. And Alice and the other ladies can lounge about in their day-to-day life. It’s honestly a sweet deal, imo. We never see any growth or progress from the other characters. Until the very end, when chaos is erupting (and so are street lights), do the women start to question their place. I’d have peeped something wrong when Alice said my very unique meet-cute was shared by two other women. Instead, we get a film ripe with gaslighting not just from the men but from the women too, women so intent on maintaining the status quo and a world that again, seemed pretty sweet if you could sign up for it and give consent, that they’d sacrifice the lives of their friends to maintain it.
Don't Worry Darling: Love & Patriarchy Do Not Mix
by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Capitalism and the Patriarchy
The intersection of Capitalism and the Patriarchy follow two similar themes, property and dominance. In Don’t Worry Darling we’re presented with a reality in which both are flourishing, but at a cost. The price of economic stability, and the illusion of the American dream are paid for with the sacrifice of Feminine autonomy, and Masculine emotional autonomy. Both are not allowed in the patriarchy capitalism simulation created by Frank (Chris Pine’s Character). This film fails in a lot of ways, but it is clear in reinforcing the point that the social structures of the patriarchy and capitalism work together in the oppression of women, and that the only way for true gender equality to be achieved is through the dismantling of both systems. To understand this, we need to recognize the harm that both of these social and historical structures do to both groups. The film drops the ball in forgetting the intersectionality both of these historical structures hold with white supremacy.
In the Journal article, Capitalism and the Oppression of Women: Marx Revisited by Martha E. Gimenez, they overview some of the way’s that capitalism and the patriarchy work together to oppress women. Gimenez argues that while Marx didn't focus explicitly on women's oppression, his theories provide a framework to understand how capitalism contributes to gender inequality. In their journal they discourage oversimplifying the issue by blaming men, emphasizing instead the importance of analyzing historical and economic conditions in shaping social relations between genders. That in enforcing and uplifting these flawed systems, both groups are harmed. That these are both systemic issues, uplifted and enforced by individuals, but not created individually.
Marxist-Feminist thought contends that the intertwined structures of capitalism and patriarchy collaboratively perpetuate the oppression of women within society. Capitalism, driven by profit motives, exploits labor for economic gain, often leading to the undervaluation and marginalization of traditionally feminized work. This economic system, according to Marxist-Feminists, exacerbates gender inequalities by reinforcing patriarchal norms that assign women to subordinate roles. The patriarchy, as a social system, perpetuates gender-based power imbalances, enabling the exploitation and control of women. Within this framework, women are not only relegated to lower-paying jobs but also subjected to societal expectations that limit their autonomy and perpetuate gender norms. Marxist-Feminist analysis emphasizes the interconnectedness of economic and gender structures, asserting that dismantling both capitalism and patriarchy is essential for achieving true gender equality.
In Don’t Worry Darling, when we look at Alice’s career prior to being forced into the simulation, we see the conflict Jack feels in (from his perspective) being relegated to traditionally feminized domestic responsibilities while Alice acts as the primary breadwinner. This fuels his insecurity, and likely is the root of why he feels so emboldened by the incel-y podcast and promise of Frank’s world. Where he will no longer be harmed by society's view of him as a failure under patriarchal capitalism, and instead can bury those feelings under his perceived power. His motivation is not out of love or even care towards Alice, but out of the desire to be approved of by society (other men), and desired by Alice, as a desperate attempt at gaining her adoration, body and approval that is promised to him by the patriarchy. He wants a dissected version of Alice, who won’t call him out when he is doing something wrong. This is largely because of the social pressures of the western patriarchal society deeming him unworthy if he cannot maintain a place of power.
To quote bell hooks’ ‘Love Trilogy, “Psychological patriarchy is a “dance of contempt,” a perverse form of connection that replaces true intimacy with complex, covert layers of dominance and submission, collusion and manipulation. It is the unacknowledged paradigm of relationships that has suffused Western civilization generation after generation, deforming both sexes, and destroying the passionate bond between them.”
Love and Domination Do Not Mix
In Don’t Worry Darling, Jack tosses his emotional connection with Alice aside for the promise of power. Willing to sacrifice her autonomy, and his ability to empathetically connect, love or care for Alice in the process. The reveal of the real Jack, is predictable when you understand his investment in this system, despite his nice guy routine. He performs well, in that he performs love, just like he performed the weird dance during his promotion ceremony. He performs verbal support, and care without actually delivering actions. His love is just as much a performance as the simulation, because he does not know how to act genuinely in an ingenuine world. “When men and women punish each other for truth telling, we reinforce the notion that lies are better. To be loving we willingly hear the other’s truth, and most important, we affirm the value of truth telling. Lies may make people feel better, but they do not help them to know love.” -bell hooks
The scene that stands out to me is the performance of him cooking dinner, where he does a really bad job at making a meal, but like the puppy he is, is desperate for that performance to be enough. In the article Psychological Patriarchy and Covert Submission in ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ (2022) – Flip Screen by Tilly Long, they unpack this nicely stating,
“An emasculated, unemployed incel, the real Jack is seen tucked away in a basement listening to Frank’s pseudo-intellectual philosophy of gender, based on psychology professor and culture warrior Jordan Peterson. Meanwhile Alice is a surgeon, working 30 hour days and consequently dismissing her boyfriend’s sexual advances a bit too often for his liking. In this self-imposed Matrix programme, Jack can position himself as provider and breadwinner, addressing a personal crisis of masculinity perhaps in order to feel worthy of Alice, whilst degrading her to the status of sex object and personal maid. This inevitably doesn’t serve him though, as Jack seems almost as helpless as his wife when confessing he hates the control exerted on him by Frank’s system; in particular, the day job he works in the real world to pay for the simulation. As bell hooks has written, “To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings.” Patriarchy so blatantly doesn’t bode well for anyone here, not even the husbands who appear content to the untrained eye. It is now clear that most of the housewives Alice has befriended are also purposefully trapped in this town by the men in their lives, although they almost certainly don’t know it yet.”
Don’t Worry Darling unpacks the relationships we often see when capitalism and the idea of modern romance become mixed. How much can one truly “love” someone or something they view as property? When everything can be bought and sold, what does that do to our understanding of empathy, and the people around us.
Bell Hooks Interview 1999 The character of Jack cannot love Alice, because to quote Bell Hooks again, “You can’t violate someone and say that you love them. If we are being abused in any way then we are not being loved. Love is opposite to abuse and domination.” Love cannot exist under capitalism, or the patriarchy, because love is the opposite of domination.