It is eminently fascinating when a film manages to fold back in on itself. When the creation or final product seems to exist in conversation with its own form, a twisted paradoxical capsule of the infinite symbiosis of art imitating life imitating art. In simpler terms, something like Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) is a historically fascinating piece of art because it becomes itself – a film about a fictional madman’s obsessively destructive psychosis in attempting an impossible feat, requiring a real madman to fall into his own obsessively destructive psychosis attempting that very same feat in order to depict it. Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling manages something quite similar, in that it is a film about someone trapped in an uncanny valley world where nothing quite makes sense, desperately yearning for escape, slowly making you feel the exact same way for an agonizing 123 minutes.
The film draws comparisons to the twisted, encroachingly dystopic universe of Black Mirror (2011), but those stories come with purpose and intent. It draws comparisons to the conniving, undercuttingly sinister world of Get Out (2017), but that film builds palpable tension and follows coherent narrative logic. It draws comparisons to the fascinatingly constructed falsity of The Truman Show (1998), but that film is immaculately crafted and detail forward, not predicated on turning its façade into a twist but on a character’s journey to discover what we already know. The list goes on. A thousand inspirations that ostensibly form the substance of Don’t Worry Darling, but each of these inspirations are nothing more than pins on the dream board that constructs this incoherent visual sludge of hollow mimicry.
If anything, the most constant and forward facing problem of Don’t Worry Darling is that it exists in a completely meaningless void; one directly in between providing a comforting sense of safety waiting to be undercut and being a completely open book where the wider construction has already been revealed, allowing us to journey through the protagonist’s development within it. It desperately wants to be and can never be both. There is never a sense that all is right in this bizarro version of the fifties, even for Alice (Florence Pugh, trying so hard to steer the sinking ship to safer waters). There is also never a clear idea of why anything is the way it is. Ostensibly, the film thinks this strange refusal to pick a lane hinges on its final turn, that one reveal could somehow justify everything that came before it. The “aha,” dolly zoom moment of shock that recontextualizes everything.
Only, this film is not a clever, sleight-of-hand magic trick where the answer has been in plain sight all along. While it may posit as if it were The Prestige (2006), or F For Fake (1973), it instead is Spectre (2015), where the tacked on twist is frustratingly incoherent, unfounded nonsense not at all justified by the content it claims to recontextualize. Instead of the thrilling dopamine rush provided by the narrator realizing the reality of Tyler Durden’s existence, you are left with baffled anger as the film cuts to black without answering any questions or connecting any dots. At the end of it all, seeing the trailer gives you about as good of an idea what the film is about as watching the full film. The film is just nothing. It is the extant, scattered shards of a concept that was weak from its inception. To be a failure, it would have to be aiming at something in the first place.
Countless films can be discussed and mentioned in an attempt to understand Don’t Worry Darling’s ultimate lack of coherence or meaning, but the only thing truly apt to reference is Olivia Wilde’s 2020 short film Wake Up. Hollow, technophobic nonsense where everything exists on the face of it and its only tangible commentary is surface level at best, if not purely the most obvious and uninteresting observation being regurgitated for the thousandth time. It is so exceedingly obvious from the very early moments of this plastique, picturesque vision of masculine ideals that something is off, but the film imagines that it is clever for not letting you in on why. In a precisely crafted dance of life where nothing ever seems to go wrong, where the women are politely subservient wives and their husbands go off to work doing something vaguely secretive and intentionally nondescript for their mysterious cult-leader-like boss Frank (Chris Pine doing his absolute best with such paper thin material to work with), it positions itself as a machinated misdirect where the incredibly obviously suspicious landscape will eventually build itself into something more meaningful. Only it never does.
It is all questions and no answers, and each subsequent addition to the world of the film only adds more to its pile of incoherence. There is a steadfast refusal to explain why any of it is the way that it is, and eventually the only conclusion left to draw is that there is just no reason for it. Before you can even reach that conclusion, you will just stop caring. The film is all one note. The façade of Alice’s world is slowly crumbling and every man around her is actively involved in a conspiracy to gaslight her into psychosis. It is that and it is that for nearly the entire runtime, a simple puzzle any competent viewer is capable of solving in the first ten minutes only to be subjected to another nearly two hours of it as you wait for it to pull the rug out from under you. Except the rug was never beneath you in the first place, so it’s just the film waving a rug around while you shrug and walk away. There’s certainly no reason to worry, nor see this at all.