In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Don’t Worry Darling, we will discuss the most important motifs that help us better understand the film.
- 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
Important motifs in Don’t Worry Darling
1. The desert
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.
3. Motivational quotes
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.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more motifs you think should be part of Colossus Movie Guide? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider adding your thoughts to the guide.