In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Don’t Worry Darling, we will discuss the most important themes 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 themes in Don’t Worry Darling
1. 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.
2. 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…
3. 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.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more themes you think should be part of Colossus Movie Guide? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider adding your thoughts to the guide.
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