I can’t be the only one who felt like, for the whole month of September, ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ was plaguing me. The film was everywhere. Tabloids were spitting out hear-say at a rate of knots. “Florence Pugh fuels feud rumors with Olivia Wilde.” “Harry Styles spits (spits?!) on Chris Pine.”
I honestly felt like I was living in some kind of dystopia. Olivia Wilde was my tyrannical overlord. And ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ was her creepily insistent lackey I couldn’t escape from, no matter how hard I tried (and, believe me, I tried).
The publicity surrounding ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ was an entity in its own right. I mean, it basically bought my cinema ticket for me. By the time it hit late September, I’d resolved that I just had to see this film for myself. The only thing was, after being consumed by all this media frenzy, I hadn’t really, truly considered how I was going to react to the film itself. By this, I mean I did not account for the rush of real frustration I felt post-screening.
When the credits began to roll, I was basically vibrating in my seat. I turned to my friend next to me in shock, I just couldn’t believe what I’d seen. ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ had managed to successfully portray one of the worst depictions of male violence I had ever seen onscreen. Ok, let me clarify here. One of the worst depictions of it in a film that self-reflexively professed itself to be about the patriarchy. And about the endemic of male violence.
While I might be coming across as a bit excessive here, I really am worried that ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ approaches the topic of male violence in a way that is, quite frankly, dangerous. The film seems to imply that violence against women is only committed by a certain subset of men. It relies upon a rather dated (and extremely limited) perception of quote-unquote “dangerous” men as chronically online, greasy, and lonely. And given that the trajectory of the film is the exposure of patriarchal-driven violence, I think it threatens to send a really awful message about the real thing.
A hasty spoiler alert here. The film’s twist comes with the revelation that ‘Victory,’ the distinctly cult-ish suburban vista, is a simulation. And its’ male inhabitants (all of whom are accompanied by wives) have their partners locked up – forcibly tuned into this server. Indoctrinated by the influence of the omnipotent Frank’s podcast (Chris Pine), these men are convinced to trap their partners in a simulation where everything goes their way. They’re handsome, successful, and they get laid. While this is a big epiphany for the audience, it’s perhaps not so mind-melting as the transformation of Harry Styles’ sauve, tap-dancing Jack Chambers.
Previously the film’s heart-throb, Jack’s real self is completely devoid of his ‘Victory’ charm. He is, instead, greasy-haired and jobless – apparently (now) a suitable villain. I mention this because ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ relies on cheap and outmoded visuals to signal Jack’s wickedness – his turn. It wouldn’t be enough for Styles to act the part; he must be outfitted in musty clothes and (obviously) acne-scarred to be a believable abuser. To really encourage the audience to envision Jack – really, Harry Styles – as a villain, it assumes that a drastic visual change is necessary.
The glaring issue here is that this establishes the precedent that women are, if not only, then primarily, threatened by men who look like Jack does. I mean, ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ basically waves a massive, flashing ‘incel’ sign above Jack. The onscreen obsession with his PC, his appearance, and his obvious (sexual) frustration with Alice’s career tunnel vision all point to Jack being an overt misogynist. Or, at the very least, already well on his way to being one. The film’s simple equation is explicit, outfitted misogyny = male violence. Oh, plus a unique susceptibility to indoctrination.
Notably, Jack’s transformation is the only one designed to be shown onscreen – despite the abundance of other male characters. The consequence of this is that ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ presents no alternative to its own implication that male violence is enacted by a certain type of man. The audience assumes the male ensemble all look like this too – there’s no reason to think otherwise.
The same can be said of the indoctrination depicted in the film. The narrative makes the logical leap between Jack’s attitude and visual appearance and his quick indoctrination under the watch of Frank. As such, it suggests, without any further equivocation or nuance, that the men most threatened by indoctrination already exhibit misogynistic traits. And are uniquely susceptible.
While this doesn’t necessarily seem like it would be untrue in reality, the popularity of ‘male alpha’ figures recently clearly shows that all men are vulnerable to indoctrination and committing violent acts against women. The truth of the matter is that women are constantly at risk – and not just from certain types of men. To this degree, although I commend ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ for approaching such a pertinent topic, I think the film does much more harm than good. Ultimately, by way of its’ ignorance, it only serves to prop up the system it attempts to undermine – recuperating the stereotypes it seeks to dispel.