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Home LATEST NEWS Olivia Wilde-Florence Pugh's meat looms over 'Don't Worry, Darling'

Olivia Wilde-Florence Pugh’s meat looms over ‘Don’t Worry, Darling’

Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry, Darling” is, on its immaculate and obsessively polished surface, a film about the danger of dreams. But the film is also a kind of reflection of itself. On closer inspection, it becomes inverted, leaning on her own imagination and returning only reluctantly, and late, to the insipid demands of commercial reality.

Even if you’ve somehow avoided all the hype for the movie, the pop culture reference points should be clear by now.

The film begins, with little effort to get your bearings, in the small desert town of Victory, California, in 1950s Hollywood. Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is a devoted housewife; her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), works on “Project Victoria” along with all the other men in the neighborhood under the direction of Frank (Chris Pine), who smiles ominously. The Chambers’ life seems idyllic; they have all the material luxuries they could want, lots of friendly neighbors, and a passionate romance. But Alice starts having strange visions and flashbacks. And when she starts asking questions about what Project Victory really is, her comforting, perfect world begins to unravel.

Even if you’ve somehow avoided all the hype for the movie, the pop culture reference points should be clear by now. Screenwriter Katie Silberman is joking about The Stepford Wives” and a cornucopia of Philip K. Dick adaptations and copies, from “Total Recall” to “The Truman Show” to “WandaVision”. Victoria, the city, is a reactionary fantasy of feminine domesticity and masculine careerism. Frank constantly tells his subordinates that his work will “change the world,” and exhorts women to unquestioningly support their husbands in pursuit of this nebulous but admirable goal. Little by little, Alice realizes that her happiness and her relationship are traps as the town begins to develop strange tumors of unreality. The third act is an escape race; Alice finally gets rid of the fantasy to seize the empowerment and true self of her.

That’s a pretty familiar narrative, and critics haven’t been particularly impressed. The film has a rating of 36% on rotten tomatoes at the time of publication. But the film is only tangentially interested in its clichéd narrative. The advance towards reality and self-realization are superficial and are inserted in the last half hour of the film more as an obligation than as a consumption. This is a Hollywood movie with big name actors; it has to have a plot and a resolution. It can’t be “Eraserhead”.

But it sounds like Wilde would rather do “Eraserhead,” if you could dress “Eraserhead” in fabulous dresses and impeccable retro decor. A suspenseful thriller is supposed to build suspense through careful buildup of details and revelations. But delightfully, that’s not how “Don’t Worry, Darling” works. Instead, things are felt almost immediately, and the narrative goes round and round about wrong getting nowhere, like movie dream sequences of cabaret dancers arranged in a circle lifting their legs before dissolving into the image of a dilated eye.

Rather than a Hollywood racing plot, it feels more like an elegantly claustrophobic art film, suspended in its own obsessions.

Wrong is dizzying and terrifying; Alice sees visions of violence and gets lost in her own head when Jack suggests that she is crazy. As if in a nightmare, she continues to be drawn to the same paranoid scenarios. She is at a party where everyone is having a great time, but she becomes more and more distressed. She begs Jack to leave her, but he ignores her or doesn’t listen to her. Rather than a Hollywood racing plot, this feels more like an elegantly claustrophobic art flick, suspended in its own obsessions, or one of Douglas Sirk’s images of women, sinking into an enveloping, ornate domesticity.

This rather obvious aura of dread makes the film feel like a horror movie, rather than a thriller. But as with many horror movies, the creepy weirdness isn’t just a scare; it is an aesthetic pleasure. Wilde’s shots are surprisingly framed. The 50’s soundtrack is curated with loving care. Sirkian saturated colors and clothing practically exude sexiness. The already infamous sex scenes focus almost entirely on female pleasure. In one, Alice leans over a table laden with food, dropping item after item on the floor until the table is clean and symmetrical beneath her frilly dress. Erotic fullness and aesthetic clarity are the same.

There has been a lots of gossip about the tension between Wilde and Florence Pugh on set. However, if there were any, it doesn’t seem to have affected performance. Pugh conveys blissful serenity and harrowing confusion with equal conviction; his skill justifies Wilde’s poetic anti-narrative, and vice versa. Harry Styles (as an actor, at least) is a near miss. Pugh beats him so completely and so effectively that it’s hard to even watch him when they’re on screen together. But that’s definitely the point. The love story between Jack and Alice fades into irrelevance as the director and the protagonist spin and float together through a sunny suburb built like a skull.

The strength of the film is in exploring that skull, not escaping from it. It’s a movie that I think will hold up over and over again, but even in my first time, there’s a lot of wonderful detail. I think my favorite scene is a scene where Alice is in the bathtub after a mental health crisis and Jack tells her that he wants to think about having children. She is virtually stunned to paralysis. As he leaves, she looks at herself in the mirror, then dives in. But her reflection lingers for a split second after she’s underwater, a version of herself she can’t leave behind, or she won’t let go.

Compared to this virtuoso play with image, self, and meaning, the scenes that tell us what is “really” going on are mundane and monotonous, lacking the glamor and subtlety that make most of the film so fun to watch It is the fake world that embraces the film’s potential most intensely. The real world feels like a ghostly, desaturated reflection.

One could argue that Wilde is showing the seduction of the upper-middle-class environment of the 1950s, with each gender in its place and a house full of deviled eggs and other delicious material things. But the director also seems to be in love with creativity, creating textures, characters and dreams for themselves. “Don’t Worry, Darling” is a movie that warns you to beware of illusions even as it revels in a movie’s power to create a world deliberately detached from reality. A film that pretends to provide an explanation of women’s reality in order to embrace women’s imaginations may be too idiosyncratic for short-term critical or commercial success. But I think it will eventually find its audience.


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