If you’re looking for a star-stuffed thriller with a WTF twist, Don’t Worry Darling may be the movie for you. Headlined by Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, and Gemma Chan, director Olivia Wilde’s second feature-length film follows the gnarly tale of a happy housewife whose world is thrown into a spin when she uncovers a terrible secret beneath the surface of her picture-perfect town of Victory. Yet even if you’re watching this mind-bending movie with laser-sharp focus, you might well have missed the most disturbing detail dropped amid the action and exposition in the frenzied final act.
Brace yourselves, darling. We’re racing into spoiler terrain.
For much of the movie, poor Alice Chambers (Pugh) is plagued by strange visions of a plane crash, a hallway closing in on her, Busby Berkeley-style dancing girls, and flashes of herself in what seems to be another life.
Don’t Worry Darling‘s third act reveals that another life is precisely what she once had. And it wasn’t in the 1950s, as her Leave It to Beaver-style surroundings would suggest; it was in the present day. Before waking up in Victory, Alice was a doctor, her husband Jack (Styles) an unemployed grouse who moped around their cluttered apartment binge-listening to sexist propaganda podcasts hosted by Frank (Pine), the founder of the Victory Project.
There’s an aspect to the Victory Project listeners can sign up for that’s a virtual community, sort of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game except Frank’s creepy fans are role-playing a heteronormative ’50s dream that requires a submissive wife — in the real world, their female partners are drugged and immobilized, their bodies left to the so-called care of their incel “husbands.”
All of that is super messed up! And yet, it’s one single floating line of dialogue that is Don’t Worry Darling‘s most harrowing element.
Let’s look deeper into Don’t Worry Darling‘s big twist.
Credit: Warnes Bros. Pictures
In the flashbacks to their life before Victory, Don’t Worry Darling unfurls audio records of Jack’s application for the Victory Project. Over visuals of Jack preparing their home for imprisoning Alice, Dr. Collins (a perfectly cast Timothy Simmons) can be heard reading Jack’s submission form, saying things like “Chosen Nationality: British” and “Wife: Alice Chambers.” Then, he says, “Pre-existing relationship: Yes.”
Not “Pre-existing relationship: Wife” or “Pre-existing relationship: Girlfriend.”
“Pre-existing relationship: Yes.”
This line suggests there are Victory Project applicants who answered no to this question. And hey, maybe Frank and Dr. Collins turned down such applications. But something about the way their master plan centers on abducting women into a world where they are gaslit to fuel the retro fetish fantasies of their “husbands” has me doubting that’d be a moral line they wouldn’t cross.
That one “yes” could well mean the other wives of Victory are not actually married to their husbands in the real world. Maybe they aren’t even dating them. Maybe they don’t even know these creeps at all. That “yes” suggests that Dean (the bombastic Nick Kroll) or Peter (the hilarious Asif Ali) or Bill (a nervous Douglas Smith) could have eyed some stranger and decided to snatch her right out of her life.
Perhaps that’s why new-to-town “wife” Violet (a wide-eyed Sydney Chandler) looks so utterly perplexed at that first introduction. Maybe that’s why she looks so horrified in the final act when it seems the women are regaining their memories. Maybe she wasn’t just new to Victory; maybe she was also staring at her husband and wondering, “Who the hell is he?“
Not to belittle the horrendous betrayal of violating a romantic partner’s brain and body to transform them into a beaming, besotted housewife, but the potential of that “yes” makes Victory far more terrifying. Because any jackass on the street could be a Victory Project husband lying in wait. And that is the film’s most haunting point.
In a nutshell, Don’t Worry Darling is about men dominating women, employing medical and technical advances to overpower a woman’s autonomy and even her memories. In a time where cis women and people who can become pregnant are under attack by oppressive political movements that would make lawmakers — not doctors — the deciders of their physical well-being, there’s a breathtaking relevance to this film’s fractured fantasy. Because as we’ve seen with the overturning of Roe V. Wade, not only could your partner claim control over your body and your life, but so could some random asshole who you’ve never even met.
And trust us, that’s the kind of fear that’ll keep you up at night.
Don’t Worry Darling is now in theaters.