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Why the 'Don't Worry Darling' ending doesn't work
Does the Don't Worry, Darling ending make any sense? We explain that third act reveal.
For months, the behind-the-scenes drama that bled out the making of director Olivia Wilde's sci-fi/thriller, Don't Worry Darling, has all but dominated the pre-release pop culture conversations surrounding the film. But what about the quality of the movie itself? Audiences finally got to see it this weekend as it went into wide release, and plenty of curious people showed up putting it at the top of the domestic U.S. box office earning $19 million.
The exact nature of Don't Worry Darling's story, which was written by Olivia Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman (based on a story idea by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke), was a secret until now, having only been hinted at in the trailers and logline. As expected, there's a very tech/near-sci-fi concept at the heart of the story. But, the logic of the last act reveal is a bit of a head-scratcher, so SYFY WIRE is here to help unpack what happens and if it makes sense.
****Spoilers below for the ending of Don't Worry Darling***
As implied in the Don't Worry Darling trailers, there's a big twist behind the seemingly perfect 1950s-era "Victory Project" residential community that is the home of newlyweds Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles). Created by the enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine), he's a mystery businessman who extols the bygone virtues of traditional "values" where men are the breadwinners and their wives are their vital homebound support systems who cook, clean, and bed their men to help them be their best. And this Palm Springs, Mid-Century modern enclave clearly operates like a place that the ERA movement forgot.
The film's first two acts reinforce how this works via Alice's day-to-day, where she sees Jack off to his non-specific job every morning with a packed lunch (often in her nighty or just wearing his shirt) and then welcomes him home in a lovely dress with a cocktail. Every household that has submitted themselves to be part of Frank's world-changing social experiment each does their own variation on this strict theme, with Alice a willing participant. It's all idyllic until Margaret (KiKi Layne) starts to publicly challenge their reality in front of Frank, and then specifically to Alice. Margaret's increasingly disturbing behavior paired with Alice witnessing a plane crash in the desert prompts the status quo to frazzle as Alice's curiosity (yes, it's quite on the nose considering her name) gets the best of her and the facade crumbles.
Throughout the film, Alice is often humming a nameless tune that causes her to dissociate from the present and see flashes of confusing but repeating images of dilated pupils and choreographed dance numbers that she doesn't understand. As she questions the truth behind the plane crash, visits the forbidden HQ on a secluded bluff, and confronts Jack about refusing to believe her concerns, the gas lighting of Alice by everyone in the enclave gets turned up to boil. It isn't until the last 20 minutes that the truth is revealed: Alice is trapped inside an incel virtual reality simulation.
Throughout the whole film, Alice's discomfort has been the manifestation of her mentally fighting the mind conditioning Jack has been putting her under so she'd be a docile participant in the secret alt-right Victory Project, an exclusive virtual reality community created by Frank. In the real world, in the near future, Jack is revealed to indeed be in a relationship with Alice Warren, a surgeon who has been emotionally and financially supporting him in the wake of his unemployment and subsequent lack of motivation. The suave guy in Project Victory is nothing like the gaunt creep who sits home all day listening to Frank's incel (short for involuntary celibate, a term created by disaffected men online) podcasts meant to indoctrinate disenfranchised men with his messages of traditional values and home dynamics. Jack is invited to participate in the project and he's motivated enough by its promise to find a job so he can pay for Alice to remain inside the Victory Project simulation 24/7 so she doesn't get wind of what he's doing. But, that means he has to leave the system daily to pay for their expensive inclusion and take care of Alice's prone body that rests on their bed all day in their real apartment. She's plugged into the VR interface which has taken away her independence, choice, career, and her body autonomy all because he thought she worked too much and is now the "perfect version of herself" with him inside the simulation.
Jack and Frank try to reset Alice with some electroshock therapy to get her to submit to the program again but that only works for a hot minute. She remembers it all and that the little song and those mystery images are part of the brain-washing technique forced upon her so she can just accept the rules of Project Victory's new world order. After a terrible fight with Jack, Alice cracks him in the head with a decanter and kills him which means he's dead in the real world too. She escapes the house and is appalled to find out from her neighbor Bunny (Wilde) that because her kids died in the real world, Bunny is part of this mess by choice. Alice jumps in Jack's car and speeds to the HQ which is her only exit from the simulation now that Jack is gone. As she puts out her hands to touch it, Frank (or someone) projects an image of Jack behind her as one last temptation to stay in this fake reality. She falters then touches the exit. Fade to black and we hear what sounds like Alice taking a huge breath of awakening which means her prone body is now woken up too.
Does It Make Sense?
Yes and no. The incel idea is a pretty terrifying concept and would have been an effective twist if it hadn't been crammed into the very end of the movie and then diluted with the galling choice by Wilde and Silberman to imply that Alice is sort of complicit in her captivity because she was co-dependent in her toxic relationship. Why the spine-chilling reveal of a future where men can kidnap women they fixate on, and make them unwilling participants in a perfect, fake reality, wasn't considered strong enough of a horror ending is a real mystery. Instead, they undercut that real nightmare with a nightmare writing choice. During the climactic fight between Jack and Alice after she returns from "therapy," the scene is clearly implying that Alice did like being the object of Jack's full attention, sexually and provider-wise, in this simulation. As Jack clings to her begging her to stay with him, she sobs saying that she loves him too which signals that their obsessive love is mutual. Odd, when not five minutes before she was screaming at him that he made her feel crazy and took away her life that she liked in the real world. What a gross muddying of the message.
And that's reinforced in the last moments before she exits when Frank conjures the form of hot Jack to lure her into staying inside Victory so they can control her (and their secret) forever. She closes her eyes like she's truly tempted but then after way too long of a moment, is able to step forward and escape. Gotta ask, what's the temptation there? He's dead and he kidnapped her. Even the "sex positivity" floated as feminism in the press leading up to the film is anything but because Alice has never had any agency in this story, or this experiment. Everything she does has been manipulated and controlled, inside and outside of Project Victory by Jack and Frank, so the very deep ick of implying that because she was sexually satisfied by Jack and willingly in a toxic relationship makes her "guilty" too is beyond the pale. It kneecaps the potency of the actually insidious sci-fi/tech twist which would have been a fascinating last act reveal and enemy to overcome. Instead, the victim blaming makes the whole piece shrivel.
Don't Worry Darling is playing now in theaters.
Looking for more thrillers? Peacock has films like The Black Phone, The Mummy trilogy, and more streaming now.