Don’t Worry Darling is the Feminist Mystique of the twenty-first century, and not for a good reason. On Sept. 23, the psychological thriller premiered after its extremely messy press tour which was rooted in the drama between co-stars Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, and Olivia Wilde. The film, directed by Wilde, has earned a tremendous amount of media attention over the past couple of months due to this drama, so it’s no wonder that it was number one in the box office on its opening weekend.
Many people, including myself, were extremely hyped about this film because of pop-star Harry Styles as well as Wilde’s claim that the film has many feminist undertones. The film was ultimately marketed by Wilde as a distinctly-feminist psychothriller — “part of [her] ongoing project to examine the female experience from multiple angles.” Wilde also went on to say how the film is the “The Feminine Mystique on acid.” This makes sense as the film does reek of the Feminist Mystique, but in that it is full of white feminist ideals, just like the book.
The Feminist Mystique is a book written by Betty Friedan in 1963, during the second-wave feminist movement in the United States. Friedan’s book criticized the way White American women thought and their involvement with the “Happy Housewife” narrative. In other words, it spoke to the “stereotypical women” who had no vision outside of having babies and a husband. The problem with this book is that it is only concerned with college educated, upper and middle class white women, but not women of color (WOC). According to Friedan, WOC did not truly exist since they were victims of sexist oppression and being fetishized. This is what is known as ‘white feminism’ — feminism that only uplifts white women and white women only.
The movie follows a white woman, Alice (Pugh), who is trapped in a 1950’s “Happy Housewife” simulation by her misogynistic boyfriend, Jack (Styles). In the beginning, Alice is not aware that she is trapped in this town called Victory. She is pretty content with her day-to-day routine of serving her husband and waiting for him to get home from work. Every family in Victory is confined to the same lifestyle and town; no one has ever really thought or heard about anyone leaving. The Town was founded by Frank (Chris Pine), who is the boss of every working man in town. The work that the men engage in is never disclosed to their wives. These men work at a headquarters outside of Victory’s city limits and the wives are not allowed there as a “safety precaution.” None of the women ever question this lack of disclosure except the only Black woman within the whole film.
Margaret, played by Kiki Lane, is seen as a mentally ill and crazy woman throughout the movie. A majority of the film’s plot is centered around Margaret’s trauma, but she is rarley seen as she dies within the first 30 minutes of the movie. In an Instagram post, Lane brought up how her and her boyfriend, Ari’el Stachel (who plays Ted Watkins), were cut from a majority of the film. According to her, “they cut us [Lane and Statchel] from most of the movie, but we thriving in real life.” I find this appalling as a big chunk of the film’s plot points come from Margaret’s character since, in the beginning, she is the only one questioning Victory and wanting to leave!
Margaret was the only character, at the beginning of the film, to call out Frank (Pine). She brought it up during a pool party with everyone from the neighborhood present, but proceeded to be gaslighted by every single person there. After this scene, Alice sees a plane crash and decides to go investigate it only to be greeted by the glass building on top of a hill in the desert, meaning that she had left Victory’s limits. Once she touches it, she is transported to a variety of visuals, but it is quickly brought back and wakes up in bed away from the building. But despite this, Alice still proceeds to gaslight Margaret when she calls her saying, “I know you saw it” with “it” being the building. Alice tells Margaret to get help and leave her alone, after this Margaret kills herself to escape Victory by slitting her throat.
After Margaret’s death, Alice starts to question authority and is doing so with a majority of Pugh’s screen-time. This is not a luxury that Lane’s character got. Sadly, her character’s corpse serves as a symbol for the start of Alice’s journey instead. The scene put a bad taste in my mouth because of the deliberate intent to put a Black woman slitting her throat on-screen as it is insensitive to Black trauma within the media. This scene is taunting, and does not build suspense as it lacks respect to the singular Black character who is pivotal to the plot.
This film gives the same energy as white performative activism during the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) 2020 protests where many people were posting pictures with signs saying BLM, but not actually protesting. This movie does not support it’s people of color characters and actively adds to the narrative of the angry, crazy Black woman, which completely goes against what feminism is; feminism is supposed to be empowering for everyone, not just the white woman.
Lane’s character is not the only WOC in the film that is snubbed of screentime, Gemma Chan’s character Shelly (Frank’s wife) is completely mysterious throughout the whole film. The whole entire film Shelly is this “happy housewife” and devoted to her husband; she even tells off Pugh’s character Alice for calling out Frank during a dinner. But that all changes during the final 10 minutes of the movie. When Alice is making her getaway from the Victory, Shelly decides to stab Frank in the stomach completely out of the blue. Chan’s character went from loving her husband to murdering him within seconds, it made sense as we barely had any scenes of Shelly and her feelings of being in Victory. But, Don’t Worry, Wilde made sure to secure lots of screen time for her character, Bunny, throughout the whole film.
Don’t Worry Darling falls flat in having any true feminist undertones as it stinks of white feminism and plot holes. It fails to recognize how systemic inequality differs based on who is experiencing it by keeping stereotypical narratives. But, that’s what is expected from a film that is based on the “Feminist Mystique.”
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