Don’t Worry Darling, by Albert W. Vogt III

Don’t Worry Darling should be my prayer right now.  This has only to do with the words of the title, not the actual content.  Briefly, we should all be worried about this psychological thriller, but that is for a conversation later in this review.  As I write, I have a lot on my plate.  Over the past almost two months, I have been dealing with a matter that need not be enumerated.  I am not dying, it is not even something wrong with me personally, but it involves me helping out an old friend in a way in which I had never before been involved.  It has been a stressful learning curve.  Then, of course, there is the usual daily cares and woes of work that we all face.  Finally, there seems to be an imminent hurricane barreling my way.  Prayer is a comfort in times like these, yet submitting yourself to God does not mean a surrender of your everything to a cynical force that seeks to control you.  Faith is cooperation, gently asked for, not demanded.  Yet, again, I am getting ahead of myself.  Sometimes, you have to face the hurricane head-on.

Without preamble, Don’t Worry Darling gets right to what appears to be your stereotypical 1950s household.  I will have to describe this later, too, in greater detail.  For the moment, roughly picture I Love Lucy (1951-1957), if you can, and you get the idea.  If not, the period appropriate music playing will set the mood.  Everyone is happy, particularly Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles).  They are a young married couple and fast risers in their community known as the Victory Project.  The stereotypes continue as the party breaks up, after a great deal of drinking, and the next morning Alice is preparing breakfast for Jack before he goes to work for the Victory Project.  It is when she goes back into the house to do the things you expect from a housewife of this time is when we get the first crack in the shell.  I mean this literally as she takes a look at some of the eggs on the counter and finds that they have nothing inside.  This is the first of many little flashes that suggests that something is not quite right, not to mention the bigger problems regarding the fact that they are not allowed to travel beyond the confines of their neighborhood in the desert.  One of the more tangible suggestions that things are off is the behavior of one of the Chamber’s neighbors, Margaret (KiKi Layne).  With the whole community gathered at the home of their leader, Frank (Chris Pine), Margaret interrupts his philosophizing about the world they are building to say that they should not be here.  At first, Alice is dismissive, preferring to believe in everything her husband is doing.  Yet, not long thereafter, word gets out that Margaret and her son had wandered out into the restricted area, and that her son had not returned.  What really changes things for Alice is one day while enjoying a bus ride, she notices a plane crashing.  Her attempts to get the driver to notice fail, so she decides to investigate on her own.  This involves going where she is not supposed to, and it ends with her at the building referred to as Victory Project headquarters.  There follows a bizarre sequence, and then Alice awakens in her bed.  Attempts at getting Jack to believe her story go unheeded, and he gets her mind off her troubles by cooking for her.  Still, she cannot let it go, and her paranoia only worsens when Alice sees Margaret slit her throat before committing suicide.  Alice is taken away by men in red jumpsuits, and when she comes to once more, everyone claims that Margaret is fine.  Meanwhile, Jack continues to rise in Frank’s esteem, and is promoted at a fancy dinner.  All the while, Alice cannot shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong, and that Frank is responsible.  She feels even more isolated when she tries to tell her best friend and neighbor, Bunny (Olivia Wilde), and is rebuffed.  Alice’s next plan is to confront Frank at a dinner party before a few of their friends and attempt to entrap their leader in lies in front of the others.  Given her recent behavior, Frank is able to convince everyone that it is Alice’s psychosis, and they leave.  Alice next tries to convince Jack, but he betrays her to the Victory Project.  It is when she is taken away that we learn the true secret of what is happening, revealed while she is receiving electric shock therapy.  The Victory Project is an artificial reality in which Jack has imprisoned her.  They were together in the real world, but the demands of Alice’s job at the hospital had made them grow apart.  This is when he finds out about Frank’s Victory Project and kidnaps Alice into it, keeping her essentially enslaved.  Still, the “therapy” works for the moment, and Alice returns to her fantasy life inside the project.  What brings it all crashing down once more is Jack singing a tune that she had rattling in her brain throughout the film.  When he notices that something is amiss with her, he tries to kill her, but she manages to subdue him.  Bunny then comes, reveals that she knew the truth all along, and urges Alice to escape.  Taking Jack’s car, she races back to the Victory Project headquarters, which is the portal for their minds to return to the real world.  The last thing you hear before the credits roll is Alice gasping, which I guess means she wakes up.

Don’t Worry Darling is pretty good, though as I have thought about it in the few hours since I have seen it, I have to confess there are some plot holes.  Much of this has to do with unresolved tidbits that are meant to flesh out this dreamscape, but ultimately never go anywhere.  I have to confess, though, that I did not expect the artificial reality twist, although the historian in me should have seen that coming.  I thought the Victory Project was, at best, some kind of community of people who had escaped the apocalypse, or, at worst, a cult.  The more it went on, the more I suspected the latter, until the climactic moment when we see the truth.  Throughout, there are some subtle, and some not so, references to the strangeness of their situation.  For example, there are a number of times when the entire community shakes as if there is an earthquake occurring.  With the location and the time period, and something called the Victory Project, you could dismiss it as having to do with Cold War Era weapons’ testing.  However, this phenomenon is never explained.  The same goes with in the final sequence, when Alice is about to take off in Jack’s car, the street lamps start exploding. Why?  I do not know.  At the same time, with Alice trying to escape and Frank in contact with his minions trying to stop her, Shelley (Gemma Chan), his wife, murders him while calling him a stupid man.  These things might not matter much overall, but I noticed them and wondered at their meaning.  They seem like loose ends, and such moments are not my favorite in films.  The worst comes, though, when we only get to hear Alice wake up and not actually see it.  Does she come to in the real world, thus suggesting a happy ending?  I hope so because those are my favorite conclusions. Otherwise, this is even more dark, and I have had enough stress lately.

Another major theme of Don’t Worry Darling is control.  Again, there are overt and subvert references.  Of the overt kind are the constant radio broadcasts that seem to permeate the community from Frank, reminding them of the importance of obedience.  Another is when Shelley tells the gathered housewives at their ballet lesson that there is beauty in control and grace in symmetry.  Of the less obvious kind are the constant need to be drinking, or other forms of stimulation, which seem to work to take their minds off the unreality, if you will.  I have often heard outsiders to Catholicism (and please take that description charitably), and Christianity in general, describe faith as a system of control.  Such a person might hear Frank’s mantra of sacrifice and sitting in fear as synonymous with some of what followers of Christ are told.  Frank, indeed, tries to make himself into God, though the knife in the stomach would tell you all you need to know about his mortality.  As alluded to in the introduction, Faith is not about control.  Choosing God is a free will choice, and the most basic requirement of the faithful.  Of course, religion comes with a set of rules, but part of my Faith is putting trust in traditions that have been scrutinized for a couple thousand years, and have their basis in the Bible.  Further, if I begin questioning things, there are no men in red jumpsuits that will whisk me away for electric shock therapy.  It is also not the sixteenth century anymore, in case you wanted to make a parallel to the Inquisition.  These days, the Church is much more open to scrutiny, while also remaining firm in its beliefs.  Pope Francis is not Frank.

I am not sure if I recommend Don’t Worry Darling.  It did have me guessing for a time, which is fun.  There are also some moments in it that I would have rather not seen.  I also do not like the ambiguity of the ending.  It is well shot and acted, but with a few too many plot holes.  As such, call it a toss-up.

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