Somehow, I’m still thinking in the back of my brain, half-heartedly, about Don’t Worry Darling more than a week after watching it. On some level, I’m sure, some would take this as a sign of the movie’s artistic value — if it can be thought-provoking so long after viewing, especially considering that I’ve watched another handful of movies since, then surely that says something about the movie’s power, the argument might go — but the sad truth if it is, the reason I’m thinking about it remains that I’m mystified that it got released in the form that it was, without someone in some position of authority stepping in and going, “Maybe we should try and fix this…?”
The core of the central idea, after all, isn’t a disaster, even if it is shockingly derivative: the picture-perfect mid-20th century society the protagonist lives in is a lie, constructed by what is, for all intents and purposes, a cult of tech bro incels. It’s a twist on The Stepfird Wives, with a dash of The Matrix and Mad Men to boot; it’s not anything special, but it’s solid enough.
The execution of this idea, though…! Ignoring the fact that it’s never quite clear how the fake reality works — the wives have all been… given electroshock therapy in the real world, and then implanted with fake memories but basically given the same fake memories, even though they spend all day together, talking…? — or, for that matter, why it exists, given that those responsible apparently still have to spend the majority of their time in the real world to support their captive wives’ lives of leisure, suffering exactly the same indignities and upsets as before, but with added responsibilities and costs added on, there’s the fact that the movie would rather offer trailer-ready moments than anything making any narrative sense.
For example, the first signifier that reality isn’t what it seems is when Florence Pugh’s character is baking, and discovers that all the eggs are hollow. Why is that the case in what’s later revealed to be virtual reality? What’s with the scene where she’s cleaning and suddenly the house starts to contract, crushing her? Why, when she’s watching a swimming display on television, does she suddenly find herself drowning? All of these make sense if her reality was responsive to her state of mind, but it’s not; it’s a virtual reality world controlled by external forces, right…?
Again, there’s nothing so wrong with the writing that a second pass couldn’t have at least addressed, but it never happened, even as the multi-million dollar enterprise chugged along with some truly terrible performances in the process. (Harry Styles is as weightless as the reviews argued, but not enough was said of director Olivia Wilde’s lifeless performance as the lead supporting character.)
Maybe what’s sticking with me is the wasted potential, the idea that it could have been better with just a little more effort in specific areas. Maybe I’m stuck on something that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I should just take a cue from the title and quit caring, perhaps.