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What is Don’t Worry Darling about?
Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling takes place in a simulation set in the 1950s, but the film is very much a commentary on modern times. Alice believes she lives in a community called Victory, but secretly she’s been forced into a simulation and brainwashed to believe her new life. In Victory, the men go off to work and the women stay home to cook and clean—an idyllic version of the American Dream. But slowly Alice starts to have memories of her past life and recall the brainwashing videos she’s involuntarily watched.
This entire situation serves as a symbolic observation of the United States, where division and a looming dissatisfaction of life has driven people to idealize lives they don’t have. As women gain more rights, power, and access in society, people like Jack feel threatened and undermined. Thus, Jack serves as an emblem of the threat to American masculinity, while Alice’s aversion to Victory represents a fight for change. People like Jack find comfort in groupthink, while people like Alice would like to break free from the rigid rules of society that seem to persist. The 1950s setting—a time when women had less influence and control—becomes a defamiliarized hurdle she must conquer to regain her life.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Alice – Florence Pugh
- Jack – Harry Styles
- Frank – Chris Pine
- Bunny – Olivia Wilde
- Margaret – KiKi Layne
- Shelley – Gemma Chan
- Dean – Nick Kroll
- Sydney Chandler – Violet
- Peg – Kate Berlant
- Asif Ali – Peter
- Writer – Katie Silberman
- Director – Olivia Wilde
The ending of Don’t Worry Darling explained
A recap of Don’t Worry Darling‘s ending
At the end of Don’t Worry Darling, Alice realizes she’s been brainwashed by her husband, Jack, to live in a simulated world where she’s a submissive housewife. Jack tries to calm Alice down, but when he gets physical she retaliates by hitting him over the head and killing him. Bunny discovers what Alice has done and reveals that she’s known about the simulation all along. Alice then hops in a car and speeds away, only to be chased by Victory workers.
We then cut to Frank, who’s being asked what to do about the situation over the phone. But before he can answer, his wife Shelley stabs him in the stomach and says, “You stupid, stupid man.”
Alice races through the desert as Victory workers crash their cars and fall behind. Ahead of them all, Alice finally reaches the mirror in the desert and stands staring at it for a while. She then imagines Jack standing behind her, holding her, as he whispers, “Don’t leave me.” We then cut to a shot of Jack and Alice lying in bed together, saying, “You and me.”
When Alice snaps back to reality, she realizes she’s alone. When the Victory workers close in, she touches the mirror. The screen then cuts to a cryptic shot of a bloody circle that turns into a blue eye. Then we get dialogue from Frank, who says, “Once we acknowledge that reality, we can let go.” We then receive a series of shots, including the brainwashing sequence with the dancers, Bunny playing with her children, Alice cleaning the kitchen, and Alice dancing.
The meaning of Don’t Worry Darling‘s ending
Understanding the ending of Don’t Worry Darling involves understanding the thematic depth of the film. As we outline in the themes section, the three main themes are: the threat to American masculinity, the looming dissatisfaction with life, and the societal fight for change. You can see all three of those themes at play here at the end.
Once Alice discovers what Jack has done to her, Jack tries to explain how it was for the best. He believed that Alice was unsatisfied with her job, and Jack was unsatisfied with his relationship with Alice. So the fix-all approach was to escape to a world where Alice didn’t have to worry about having a job, where Alice had lots of female friends, where they could enjoy their relationship without the stresses of the real world.
The only problem is that Alice quite liked her job. Yeah, it was stressful, but she felt good about the impact she was having in the hospital. So the real problem didn’t lie with Alice, but instead with Jack, whose masculinity felt threatened by their situation. He wasn’t good at expressing his emotions, he was losing his sexual chemistry with Alice, and his job was terrible.
Jack didn’t understand all of this, but Alice did—which is why she had to hit Jack and run away. Jack may have been dissatisfied with his former life, but he created a new life that created profound dissatisfaction for Alice. Their inability to communicate and find a compromising solution becomes a defamiliarized example of how people drift apart in our current society. For men, it’s easier to regress to a “simpler” time. But for women, pushing forward for equality is what brings true happiness.
This explains the moment with the mirror. As we detail in the motifs section, the mirror is a symbolic way of representing the life Alice wishes she could be living. The brainwashing sequence combats this thinking, trying to make Alice believe there’s power in symmetry and uniformity: women should behave a certain way and accept that men run the world. But by touching the mirror, Alice chooses to return to her old life and choose her own path.
This is a tough moment for her, which is why we get the vision of Jack. Alice and Jack were in love, and had so many great moments together. But they were torn apart by societal pressures, by their inability to communicate. It’s tragic that she’s lost that with Jack, but Jack also proved that he had no intention of changing his mind about Victory—which means Alice must push forward.
The series of shots that ends the movie represents Alice finally putting the Victory life behind. Every moment featuring Victory is pristine and sanitized—a manufactured image that isn’t real. The brainwashing sequences are monotone and hypnotic, clearly engineered to pioneer groupthink. But Alice dancing in the kitchen in the real world is strikingly authentic. Sincere. Happy. This is Alice fully being herself. And she’s ready to embrace that life as she touches the mirror.
The moment where Shelley stabs Frank is truly perplexing. We don’t receive enough backstory about their relationship to truly understand why this happens. The easiest assumption is that Shelley was the true brains behind the Victory operation. Frank may have been the face and the voice, but perhaps Shelley was the financier, the mastermind. She may not be a man who directly benefits from Victory, but her financial gain would be enough motivation.
The themes and meaning of Don’t Worry Darling
The threat to American masculinity
You’ve probably heard someone say or mention the phrase, “the white man is the most discriminated person in America.” As women and people of varying ethnicities have gained more rights in this country, that remark has become increasingly common. And if we go beyond race and focus specifically on gender, that sentiment has been increasingly present in the United States as women have garnered more influence over societal norms.
Obviously this is a good thing: women should have equal rights to men. But that change comes at a cost. As women fight for change and gain more power, many men will start to feel subjugated. The power that men once owned in waves has diminished. And because of it, many men will feel their manhood in is jeopardy.
This is an interesting discussion, because, inherently, there’s nothing wrong with “masculinity”—it’s “toxic masculinity” that we’re worried about. The worst offenders of toxic masculinity drive the notion that any embracement of manhood should be frowned upon and discouraged.
Lauren Vinopal wrote a great article for Fatherly (a men’s magazine) about toxic masculinity and why men feel threatened:
Whereas feminine ideals are fairly consistent over the course of Western history, masculine ideals are not. Anthropologists claim that three Ps — providing, protecting, and procreating — define modern American manhood, but that’s a localized phenomenon. The only consistent truth about masculinity has been this: Men have always feared having it taken away. This is why serious gender researchers are increasingly dismissive of the idea of toxic masculinity, which suggests that manhood itself is some form of congenital defect.
The article goes on to state:
Many men view masculinity as a sort of currency that can be earned and stolen rather than as a fixed trait. They found most young boys working hard to earn manhood and a smaller population of men preoccupied with protecting this valuable social status. These men, the ones who worried about their masculine status being taken away, demonstrated a tendency to lash out if not externally validated.
What we see here is an imbalance. Because men have been at the forefront for many problems in society, masculinity is on trial. And because masculinity is on trial, the article argues that men are much more anxious about their gender than women. Thus, “being a man is ultimately more valued in society, and being a woman is more devalued,” says sociologist Maxine Craig. “Because men are more valued in society they have to watch their step in order not to lose that position.”
This explains why the men take their jobs at Victory. Specifically, we see that Jack feels dissatisfied with his home life with Alice, who works long hours and doesn’t satisfy Jack’s sexual and emotional needs. While Alice is happy with her life, Jack feels emasculated and is desperate to have control of their relationship to satisfy his desires. Which is why he abducts his wife into the Victory simulation.
You can think of every man in Don’t Worry Darling as guilty of this crime—with Frank (Chris Pine) being at the forefront of it all.
The looming dissatisfaction with life
Now let’s get to the worst side effect of toxic masculinity: depression. Despite all the resources available to achieve happiness, more and more people have seemed to become dissatisfied with life. This article on Fatherly discusses how the societal stance on gender roles has led to increased depression in men.
But it’s not much different for women. “In 2021, only 21% of men reported they were ‘very happy’ and 18% of women,” the article reads. “Meanwhile, rates of being’ not too happy’ climbed to 24% of men and 25% of women.” As society becomes more polarized and as the rules change for men and women, each group is respectively affected.
We can see how this situation played out with Jack. He was upset that Alice was so consumed with work and didn’t have time for him. He felt neglected and alone—which would be especially difficult during the pandemic era (actually, as I’m writing this now, I’m realizing how much the pandemic hangs over the characters of this film). And Frank offered an outlet where he could feel important and needed, where he could care for someone he believed was burnt out by work.
Alice experiences her dissatisfaction from a different perspective—from inside the simulation. Alice quite liked the life she had. Sure, she worked long hours at the hospital—but she enjoyed it. She believed she was making a difference in the world. But she became discontented with life when she was forced to be nothing but a housewife. The visions she has of her past life are essentially visions of a life she wishes she had. And her inability to remain chipper about the Victory community is a classic signal of depression: you put on a face and pretend to be happy…but deep down you experience lingering emptiness.
While Jack is clearly in the wrong for forcing this life upon Alice, his behavior was the result of societal changes. Because he felt displaced and neglected, he chose to make things worse for someone else instead of improving his own life—a selfish way of tipping the scales. Instead of moving forward collectively, he decided to step back into a 1950s lifestyle where he is elevated as a male figure.
In turn, Alice was pulled down into the muck instead of rising above it. Which seems to perfectly describe the stasis of society. For every step forward, it can feel like there are several steps backwards. And it requires tenacity to rise above it.
Which brings us to the third and most important theme…
The difficulty in fighting for change
You can see how the first two themes blend nicely into this one. Because there isn’t just one mindset that permeates society, or one group that’s trying to push civilization forward—there are so many different ideologies and races and economic backgrounds and identities that are all dealing with their own problems. And every fighter needs an opponent. And often that opponent is another group that also feels subjugated by society. So when you’re trying to advance your ideology, you often inevitably hurt others.
How do we avoid this battle that has seemed to infect society since the dawn of man? This becomes the challenge of the movie: what are you fighting for? How do you best create change for everyone? What’s the best way to meet people halfway?
Obviously, Jack took a terrible path. Instead of working with Alice, or ending things with Alice to pursue his own path, he put chains around Alice; he idealized a society where he had more agency than women. Did Jack have a legitimate problem that was causing him to be depressed? Based on what we learned from Fatherly: probably. This doesn’t defend his actions, but it does highlight the necessity for empathy and mental wellness. By failing to communicate with his wife and instead choosing to work a job he hated, Jack thought he was advocating for something greater that made him and his wife happier.
Alice is the true champion of the film, though. Society tried its best to brainwash her, to make her believe that Victory was the answer, that men could take care of everything and she didn’t need to have any worries about the world. But something deep down inside Alice wanted more, believed in a better life. For a long time, women didn’t make much headway in society—but people like Alice are changing everything. By refusing to be part of the groupthink, the Alices of the world are making society a more equal place.
You can think of the entire movie as a defamiliarized tale for the fight for change. Alice was in the ultimate inferior position—but she never backed down.
Why is the movie called Don’t Worry Darling?
You can think of the title as a condescending statement toward women. It stems from the age-old phrase, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head,” which, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is meant to be “informally humorous or offensive.” Basically, the phrase dates back to a time (try the 1950s) when women’s only job was to look pretty and not worry about anything “important.” The man is in control, so don’t worry!
You can see how this phrase would apply to Don’t Worry Darling. Alice has visions of a past life and begins to believe something foul is afoot. But every time she tries to broach the subject, she is swiftly denied by her husband. Jack tells her not to worry, that her life is great, that she’s just mentally unstable and needs to calm down.
The Victory Project is secretly a simulation that Alice has been subjected to. Here, she lives a “perfect” 1950s-style life where the male figure provides and all she has to do is upkeep the home. The men, who leave for work each day to work on a secret project, need the women to stay in line and never question the strangeness of their situation. In essence, the entire simulation becomes a representation of the phrase “don’t worry your pretty little head,” as the men stand above the women and force them into silence.
Important motifs in Don’t Worry Darling
Lawrence of Arabia is one of my favorite movies ever because of how it uses the desert setting. Lawrence views the desert—this desolate, despondent stretch of nothingness—as his canvas to paint his identity. Lawrence is young and naive about the world, convinced he can create change for the greater good. So the desert becomes his blueprint to build an empire that will unite people from different sides of the world. In the end, however, as the cruel realities of humanity beat his optimism to a pulp, the desert comes instead to represent his misplacement in the world, his obsoletion.
Don’t Worry Darling similarly uses its desert setting as a symbolic motif. Tucked away from society, Victory is presented as an ideal escape from society. It’s a place where you can be with your friends and family and not worry about the troubles of the world. But that stretch of nothingness starts to feel daunting for Alice, makes her feel cut off from everybody else, makes her feel completely alone. Frank doesn’t want the women venturing out into the desert because then they would discover that there’s more to the world. But Alice’s burning desire to traverse the emptiness and find something greater perfectly demonstrates her character journey, her fight for change.
Mirrors are constantly present in Don’t Worry Darling. Alice’s reflection becomes a symbolic way of representing her past life, the life she wishes she could be living. In Victory, Alice becomes dissatisfied with her existence and begins to wish for something better, something she used to have. The mirror then becomes representative of the person she wishes she could be.
This motif is used several times. There are obvious moments, like when Alice’s face lingers in the bathroom mirror. Then there are more metaphorical uses of mirrored images, like the dance sequences. The teacher tells the women to “move as one,” that there is solace in symmetry. Here, the idea of a “mirror” comes to represent how groupthink permeates society. You shouldn’t look in the mirror and see yourself—you should see what you’ve been trained to become. Don’t be an individual, and instead confine yourself to the parameters set by society.
Finally, there is the mirror in the desert. You can think of this as the final stage of Alice’s journey. The first time she encounters the mirror in the desert, she touches it and then blacks out. After that, she has all her visions, starts to see things in the mirror that aren’t really there. This is all part of her journey to realize that Margaret was right, that she used to have a better life, that she has a future to fight for. She wants to control her image in the mirror and determine her own life. So when she finally reaches the mirror at the end of the movie, she’s ready to do just that.
This is an interesting motif because it’s seemingly nothing more than background noise. Throughout the movie, Frank can be heard offering motivational quotes over the radio. Alice idly plays the radio in the background of her day, listening to Frank as she mindlessly performs chores. He says things like, “Why go back to the status quo? Let’s stand our ground. Let’s dig deeper to mine that unbridled potential,” and “Sacrifice doesn’t take courage. It takes pain…it’s scary to sacrifice something. But you’re sacrificing something by sitting in that fear.”
One of the major themes of Don’t Worry Darling is the threat to American masculinity, the overwhelming presence of patriarchy. The entire Victory simulation is set up so the men can hold all the power while the women sit idly by—this is a direct consequence of threatening the “dominant” male ego. Alice’s journey is to overcome this pressure and regain her agency, to define her own path in life. So you can think of these motivational quotes as more attempts at brainwashing and holding her down. The radio becomes a villainous sonic motif that permeates the air of the simulated environment.
There’s an interesting shot from Alice’s past life where a book by Sylvia Plath is highlighted. Plath is a famous American poet who suffered from clinical depression for much of her life. She was a pioneer of confessional poetry, which focused on extreme moments of individual experience and personal trauma. She wrote candidly about her mental troubles and fights with people close to her. And at age 30, she sadly took her own life. Thus, the book becomes a visual moment that reinforces what is a much more subtle motif in Don’t Worry Darling: depression.
Alice is constantly a display of a key sign of depression: she believes something foul is afoot…yet refrains herself from saying anything. She buries her stress and dissatisfaction deep down in her soul, and continuously accepts her too-good-to-be-true life in Victory. Everything around her continually bolsters that everything is fine, that there’s nothing to worry about. Yet…she can’t shake that inescapable feeling that something is wrong. This cognitive dissonance drives her to constantly question herself, to feel unfulfilled.
Jack also clearly suffers from depression. In the real world, he was at a loss about what to do with his failing marriage. Cooped up in his small apartment each night while Alice was away working, he did nothing but sit in front of his computer. And when Alice came home, he had lost the ability to communicate with her. That lack of human interaction drove him to extreme lengths. Depression forced him to think and act recklessly.
The last important motif is a pretty obvious one, as airplanes are a constant presence in Don’t Worry Darling. When Alice rides the trolley and sees the airplane crash in the distance, she feels compelled to help. And in her search for the plane, she comes across the mirror in the desert—which, as we previously discussed, represents her desperate desire to escape to her former life.
Thus, the airplane becomes symbolic of escape, of leaving for another, better destination. As we’ve heavily covered in the Colossus Movie Guide, several of the characters experience extreme dissatisfaction with their lives. Jack fixed his problems by escaping to Victory. So the plane becomes a symbol for women to break out of the male-idealized simulation.
This explains the airplane Margaret’s child was dragging as she went into the desert. Margaret, like Alice, realized she was stuck in a simulation and desperately wanted to escape. And the toy airplane became a symbol for her desire to escape away with her child. This makes the motif much more precious and delicate: escaping Victory isn’t just about saving these women, but protecting future generations. Since Victory serves as a symbol for patriarchal attitudes in society, the toy airplane makes this particular motif much more powerful.
Questions & answers about Don’t Worry Darling
What is the mirror in the desert?
There is a simple plot answer to this question. And then there’s a more complex answer regarding the mirror’s symbolism.
The simple plot answer is that the mirror serves as the gateway between the real world and the simulated Victory world. By touching the mirror, you regain control of your body, senses, and surroundings and return to your old life. When Alice touches the mirror, it glows red—it’s been activated. So at the end of the movie, we can assume that she’s transported back to reality.
The symbolic answer requires us to survey the film’s motifs and themes. Mirrors are easily the most common motif throughout the film, making this final scene with the mirror in the desert the climax of the motif. In Don’t Worry Darling, mirrors represent who you’d like to become. In Victory, the woman that Alice sees in the mirror isn’t actually her—it’s a manufactured image. So Alice’s journey throughout the film is to identify why she’s so dissatisfied with her life and fight for change (each of these are major themes in the film). By touching the mirror, she takes that giant step forward.
The ending is explained in further detail above.
Why do the women dance?
Dance class is an important part of Victory’s brainwashing process. In the brainwashing scenes, you can see women smiling as they dance in unison. In the Victory environment, Alice and her friends are dancing the same routine as Shelley preaches symmetry and unity. We can assume that these dance classes reinforce the language imposed by the brainwashing sequences, further cementing these women in the Victory attitude.
How does Alice end up back in Victory after touching the mirror?
We can assume that by touching the mirror, you are transported back to reality. And since Jack leaves the simulation each day to do work for Victory in the real world, he would have caught Alice after she woke up from the simulation the first time she touched the mirror. He likely went through the whole same brainwashing process to reset the simulation.
That’s what makes the ending so momentous. The second time Alice touches the mirror, Jack is dead. Which means she’ll wake up in the real world free from his stranglehold.
Why does Alice have visions of her past, but others don’t?
Because Alice touched the mirror. It’s the same deal with Margaret, who went into the desert with her son. We can assume that each of them returned to the real world, only for their husbands to capture them and transport them back to Victory. The other women seem generally confused by Victory, but don’t question anything. But once you’ve gone back to the real world and then back again to Victory (like Alice and Margaret did), you are affected differently.
Why does Shelley stab Frank?
This is probably the most perplexing question of the film. Simply put, we don’t have enough information about Shelley to have a clear answer. But we can theorize.
Remember how Shelley is introduced. When she walks into the studio to teach dance class, she’s given a very intimidating welcome. All the women stop talking and stare at her as she slowly walks to the front of the room. She is revered by the women, who listen to her attentively as she says things like, “There is beauty in symmetry,” and, “We move as one.”
These are also the kinds of phrases that Frank says throughout the film. Frank is positioned as the leader of Victory, which would make Shelley his underling. But what if it’s the other way around? What if Shelley set up the Victory simulation? What if these phrases are hers, and Frank is simply the hired face that repeats them?
The other likely explanation is that Shelley believed in Frank’s cause, but didn’t feel Frank was up to leading the Victory team. After Shelley stabs Frank, she says, “You stupid, stupid man. It’s my turn now.” So perhaps Shelley is a partner? Or she always wanted control of the company? Again, we don’t know enough of the backstory.
Where does the falling plane that Alice sees come from?
One of the most important motifs in Don’t Worry Darling is airplanes, which become symbolic of escape. Alice does not consciously realize she’s part of a simulation, but deep down she knows something is wrong. The same feeling struck Margaret, which is why we see Margaret’s child dragging the toy airplane behind him—it’s Wilde’s way of symbolically portraying this desire to escape a system that’s actively trying to suppress you.
That’s how you can view the falling airplane that Alice sees in the distance. On a logical plot level, as Chris noted in the comments section, “it seems that the world is susceptible to intrusions by the subconscious.” But on a deeper, symbolic level, the moment with the airplane is “probably [Alice’s] subconscious directing her to that point of escape.” That’s why the airplane leads Alice to the mirror in the desert that ends up being her method of escape.
What was the intermittent rumbling in Victory?
The movie never provides any reason for the rumbling in Victory. But it’s reasonable to speculate that rumblings are nothing more than glitches in the simulation. Victory was designed to recreate reality, but ultimately it’s nothing more than a virtual system. So any divergence from reality is nothing more than a flaw in that simulation. It’s similar to when Alice sees an airplane in the distance. Either that, or the rumbling is coming from the laboratory where the men are working.
Why did Frank make Jack dance at the gala?
Dancing is a prominent motif in Don’t Worry Darling. We see the women practicing a dance routine designed by Shelley, who tells the women to “move as one,” that there is solace in symmetry. Thus, dancing becomes symbolic of groupthink and the loss of one’s individuality. When you dance, your routine becomes your induction into the Victory system.
This, in my opinion, is why we see Jack dance: it’s his way of signaling his commitment to Victory. In this moment, Frank is noting Jack’s accomplishments and promoting him within the Victory system. Later on, once we realize Victory is nothing more than a simulation, we’ll learn that it was very difficult for Jack to force Alice to be part of this system. So in this moment at the gala, you can sense a bit of frenzy to Jack’s dance. He is excited about his promotion, but torn about falling deeper into the Victory system.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Don’t Worry Darling? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!