Many movies have had their share of off-screen drama on the road to release, and Don’t Worry Darling is a recent example of the effects such drama can have on a film’s success and relevance. The film is an underwhelming work, yet it makes a stark claim anyone can support: true evil does not lie in a utopian society, but rather, in a life that one hasn’t chosen. Nevertheless, Don’t Worry Darling reveals that the problem of equality cannot be fixed by modern (fourth-wave) feminism or 1950s-style American patriarchy. This isn’t a feminist or patriarchal issue; rather, it’s a gospel issue.
The following contains potential spoilers for Don’t Worry Darling.
The Victory Project is an experiment founded by the charismatic Frank (Chris Pine). Described by Frank’s wife Shelley (Gemma Chan) as “a different way, a better way,” the Victory Project feels eerily like 1950s America. The cars, houses, decorations, dress, and music all echo a high regard for nostalgia and an idealistic romanticism of patriarchal society. Men drive off to work with full bellies from their wives’ breakfasts while the women stay home and do every chore under the desert sun.
The film’s portrayal of the Victory Project as an ideal, harmless society is freakish from its start. “We have everything we need right here” is the mantra of the women who don’t question their husbands’ real work or intentions. Clearly, based on the film’s trailers and basic premise, the utopian Victory Project is allegorical for a sexist patriarchy that holds information, power, freedom, and rights—in other words, equality—at arm’s length from all women while gaslighting them into believing that they’re truly autonomous.
Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh) are the film’s main couple: a young, wild, and free recent addition to the experimental community. Their love is passionate and not focused on childbearing like others in the community, but Jack eventually sidelines it to please Frank and make progress in the business (whatever that may be). Meanwhile, Alice notices that not everything is exactly as the men say. She rebels in little ways at first—skipping the usual shopping spree to see where the desert ends—but even those may be capital offenses in a neighborhood built around unquestioned respect for men.
Alice as the sole revolutionary (minus Margaret, who commits suicide in front of Alice) among a host of women under the same oppression is allegorical for the historical development of feminism. Even when it’s one woman against the male-driven world, the ends justify standing alone. But modern feminism is a movement supported by many. Perhaps the horrific theme underpinning the whole film, then, is imagining a pre-feminist world in which support for such ideals was not widespread. This theme—of Alice’s loneliness in questioning communal norms—parallels the historical pushback against the 1950s norms of stay-at-home motherhood and desiring marriage, regardless of romantic interest.
Feminist history has produced proponents who disagree with each other on the movement’s intricacies. Mona Charen and Hanna Rosin, for example, possess conflicting ideas on modern feminism, namely, with regards to the virtue of the family and the sexual revolution. They still agree, however, that women’s rights—that women deserve to be “full legal, moral, ethical and every other way equals of men”—are fundamental, and the movement has promoted that well.
The film sloppily conveys this basic message by attempting to be both a class-act sci-fi movie and a meaningful feminist proverb. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tie up its thematic loose ends well; the “simulation” plot twist can easily be spotted from the film’s outset, yet the idea that men can die in it while women supposedly don’t isn’t thoroughly justified. Don’t Worry Darling’s message isn’t entirely lost in its poorly executed world-building, however. Jack and Alice’s dialogue at the film’s climax—when she learns about his manipulation outside of the simulation—is the stark feminist moment that viewers cheer on. “It was my life! My life! You don’t get to take that from me!” she screams, and the theater audience applauds in response. That women deserve equality on all fronts should not be difficult to support—it should be (and thankfully, has been) fought for by brave women, and good has come from it. Yet the film’s trajectory reveals that feminism ultimately cannot provide true equality or freedom.
American 19th-century patriarchy suppressed fundamental freedoms like women’s rights to vote, and its after-effects continued into the 1950s. It’s clear that the former system was deeply flawed, with the solution being a cultural and societal reordering. Exposing the atrocity of men using and abusing women throughout the course of human history is something that feminism has often used as an instrument to bring about this change. (For example, fourth-wave feminism brought much-needed attention and reform regarding sexual assault via the “Me Too” movement.) The feminism that brought about this good and necessary change, however, has also proven itself flawed: fourth-wave feminism remains the strongest proponent for the pro-choice movement, with many feminists arguing that there’s no such thing as a pro-life feminist.
Returning to 19th-century patriarchy—or 1950s, as the film suggests—is a moral regression. But seeing the feminist system through to its end brings inevitable moral compromise. In pragmatic terms, feminism has had pocketed moments where good came from the movement, but it is still lacking in moral consistency. There should be a better, holistically good movement to follow.
It’s hard to think that we can reach a place where sexism and abuse are no more, but it will happen in eternity: sin will be done for, and it won’t be a simulation! In the meantime, society’s best hope lies in following the perfect example of human treatment, found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus treated people in a way that neither patriarchy nor feminism can accomplish. Societal norms are faulty, even anti-biblical at times. To men, Paul instructed thusly: “Love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Christ’s love is not a demented, self-serving, utopian love; it’s sacrificial, humble, and all-encompassing. Jack didn’t give himself up for Alice, but gave her up as a sacrifice to his own selfish, destructive wishes. Christ listened to women, supported, loved, and forgave them even in moments that went against moral norms (John 4; 8:4–7). Jack didn’t listen to Alice, but instead, decided what was best for her without her consent.
While Jesus’ treatment of women usurped cultural norms, it did not subvert biblical morals. In Christ, we see the perfect example of sacrificial love. We also see how he treats women with equal love and respect as with men. He honors motherhood and femininity, the most powerful example of this being his acknowledgment of Mary while he was on the cross. Christ’s counter-cultural and biblically coherent treatment of women is better than feminism; it has done more good and will do more good than Western feminism’s reinvention of marriage, femininity, and motherhood.
Don’t Worry Darling’s solution to the problem of sexism is not only incomplete by my interpretation, but also by that of modern feminists. It was an empty feminist film, according to Adrian Horton. She writes, “[L]ike the Victory Project, it’s also a ruse—selling one thing, delivering something else.” Though Alice is a neurosurgeon in real life, the most she can muster in the Victory Project is emotion-driven conversation and a sense of incapability. Even her triumph is incomplete; viewers don’t know what her life was like when she finally woke up from the simulation. The film’s high points seem to contradict the premise of feminism.
Overall, Don’t Worry Darling under-delivers on a stark feminist message and can’t manage its own plotline. It is worth the watch to at least come to the conclusion that feminism might have some of the solutions to sexism, but even so, it ultimately falls short. The sexism and idealistic nostalgia of 1950s America is no better, further proving that the example of Jesus Christ—his loving self-sacrifice and the freedom he offers in salvation—is a better way to navigate a post-patriarchal society.