The opening scenes of Don’t Worry Darling are shot like a commercial—and I confess I wanted whatever director Olivia Wilde was selling.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique makes the beginning of Wilde’s second feature film ring with the hollow and histrionic excess one would expect from an advertisement. Set in the isolated company town of Victory, the film opens with a coterie of friends all dressed to the nines, dancing gleefully while the alcohol flows as freely as the laughter. The camera focuses on one couple, Jack (Harry Styles) and Alice (Florence Pugh), who break away from the group and pepper each other with kisses while they go on a nighttime joy ride. The next morning, the husbands in Victory all drive off to work in vintage cars (with fancy suits to match). Meanwhile, their wives clean their homes and prepare dinner in between ballet class. In light of these scenes, the film’s title is less of a suggestion and more of a command. When faced with such perfection, what could one possibly worry about?
Like a commercial however, what’s advertised comes with a hidden price. Even before we learn the shocking truth about Victory, composer John Powell’s score functions as the serpent threatening to undo this Eden. Discordant strings, frenetic whispers, and chants play out eerily against the backdrop of the wives accomplishing their tasks. This discrepancy between the unsettling nature of the sound design and the scenes of domestic bliss is just one of many clues that there’s more to Victory than meets the eye.
When Alice finally has her eureka moment, it is just as horrific as it is surprising. (Spoilers ahead.) Victory is revealed to be a virtual-reality simulation. In the real world, Alice is an overworked nurse, while her lover Jack is unemployed. Frustrated by the lack of time they spend together (and, the film hints, threatened by her role as the breadwinner), Jack forced Alice into the simulation against her will. In the film’s climax, when Alice confronts him about what he’s done, Jack claims that he did it out of love and care. But she rebukes his tears, declaring that he took away her autonomy, individuality, and personhood.
When faced with such perfection, what could one possibly worry about?
Seeing Alice lament that she was being taken advantage of by someone she thought she could trust made me think of the story of David and Bathsheba. After watching Bathsheba bathe herself from afar, King David sent his guards to bring her to him. Given the power imbalance between the two, it isn’t an understatement to say that what follows qualifies as rape. What’s more, when Bathsheba reveals later that she is pregnant, David murders her husband Uriah to avoid scandal.
Don’t Worry Darling visualizes the danger of what happens when people choose to construct their lives around lies, especially at the expense of others. Just as David went to murderous lengths to keep his sin hidden and not face the truth, Jack creates a world of denial, claiming he put Alice in the simulation for their mutual good, then justifying his keeping her there by saying it was done in the name of love.
Despite our best attempts to alter reality and hide the truth, the truth is never hidden from God. David may have used his power to cover up his sin, but by way of the prophet Nathan, God reminds him that he cannot hide. Nathan rebukes the king: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” Living in lies might feel freeing in the moment, but it only leads to more bondage. In Alice’s case, the film’s ending speaks to the power of truth and how it will have the final say. In order to escape Victory and wake up in the real world, Alice drives to Victory headquarters, outside of town. As she reaches the building, the last thing the audience hears is her gasp, implying that she was able to wake up from the simulation and gain control of her body in the real world.
This is what the act of truth telling feels like: a breath of fresh air. God calls his people to live in the light and to be a people of truth. At the same time, he ties the act of truth-telling to the act of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul writes that love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.” To be a people of love means to be a people who commit to the truth, no matter how hard that may be and no matter how much it may cost. May we tear down houses of lies and lean into the liberation that comes not from living in fantasies of our own construction, but the freedom that comes from living in truth.