Don’t Worry Darling

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Speaker 1: I tell you my secret now. I see. Charlotte grading paper? No. I. What’s in the box? Yo, you’re blowing up. Damn you all day.

Dana Stevens: Oh, hello and welcome to another Slate Spoiler special podcast. I’m Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, and today I’m joined by Slate’s associate editor, Marissa Martinelli. Hey, Marissa.

Speaker 3: Hi, Dana. Thanks so much for having me.

Dana Stevens: I’m really glad you’re on here to talk about this one. In fact, I don’t know about you, but I saw don’t worry, darling, by myself. And I walked out. Dying for a conversation, partner. And, in fact, wanted so badly to figure out just what happened on a literal level in this movie that I wrote an unusual review that contains spoilers, which obviously most reviews try to avoid. Just so that I could, I don’t know, process it myself. So I’m glad you’re here to process it with me.

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Speaker 3: We will do our best to answer some of those questions.

Dana Stevens: So I think before we take on don’t worry, darling, we should situated a little bit in the the film discourse of 2022, because before it ever opened, this movie was a huge topic of conversation in the film world. And that was largely because of extracurricular activities going on behind the set, the gossip behind the movie, the various scandals associated with it, the sort of disastrous rollout of the Venice Film Festival. We’re mainly here to talk about the plot of Don’t worry, darling, but I think we have to at least acknowledge it. And also this is just juicy stuff to talk about. So this is Olivia Wilde as a director’s second movie. Before that, obviously, she was known primarily as an actor. Her first film, Booksmart, from a couple of years ago was somewhat of a hit. I think at the box office was definitely a critical success and really set her out as a promising emerging director. This movie has been less well reviewed and we can get into what we think of it. But yeah, the main again association with this movie pre-opening was the gossip rags stuff. And I’m going to throw to you a little bit to to summarize what some of that was.

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Speaker 3: I would say that the gossip rags stuff has doubled as almost a marketing campaign for the movie, entirely unintentionally. Most people I know want to talk about the drama behind the scenes, particularly between director Olivia Wilde and the movie’s lead, Florence Pugh, because there have been rumors that they had a screaming match on set. Such was the tension that was going on while they were filming, and it’s come to such a head that 40 members of the movie’s crew have released a statement alleging that there was no such screaming match.

Speaker 3: But there certainly have been plenty of social media moments and encounters at the Venice Film Festival that have lent credence to the rumors that, in fact, there was a lot going on behind the scenes, and it started even before filming began. In fact, they had to recast one of the actors. Such was the tension on set. Originally, Harry Styles character was going to be played by Shia LaBeouf, and it’s not clear because it depends on who you ask whether he was fired or whether he chose to leave the movie. But apparently he could not get along with Florence Pugh and as a result, he is no longer in the movie.

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Dana Stevens: Right. That’s one side. Then there’s the fact that Olivia Wilde had an affair and apparently left her longtime partner, Jason Sudeikis, for Harry Styles during the filming, which is something that is that’s just right out of old Hollywood, right? Just the director and the star off in the trailer as as the shoot is going on and as a result in some way contingent upon all this. Florence Pugh, the star, refused to do publicity for the movie at its launch at the Venice Film Festival. So there was a lot of tension there. And yes, I mean, this basically this movie was something of a public relations disaster during the rollout, which, as you say, is kind of it’s a mix between that’s a mix between good and bad advance publicity. It’s sort of no publicity is bad publicity, I guess. And people are curious to see this movie, if only out of curiosity about all that back story.

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Speaker 3: Definitely. Chris Pine, certainly in every interview looks as though he’s disassociating to the point where he’s become something of a meme. He seems like he’s completely tapped out. And there was even a brief Twitter scandal over whether Harry Styles spit on him during the movie screening at the Venice Film Festival, with people zooming in to see whether there were any droplets landing in his lap. I don’t think he actually spit on him, but the fact that the actors had to release a statement denying it speaks volumes about how people are interacting with this movie before they see it.

Dana Stevens: Yeah, the spin thing didn’t even make sense because that’s not where the scandal lies between those two, right? It seemed completely extraneous. But the kind of drama that this movie has trailed in its wake everywhere. All right. I’m sure that there’s more that we missed about the drama, but that should give you some sense. And now that we’ve talked about the extracurricular stuff before we get into the plot itself, I’m going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsor.

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Dana Stevens: All right, So, Marissa, turning back to Don’t worry, darling. And now we’re going to talk about the movie itself. Let’s do a pretty quick set up of the pre twist part of this movie. The twist comes fairly late in the movie. I would argue too late. If I were helping to structure the screenplay, I would have said, you know, you definitely have to move Act three up a little further into Act two so that we can understand what’s going on. But first, let’s talk about all that is not well in the world of don’t worry, darling, which is I mean, it’s a dystopic science fiction movie, basically. And even that is somewhat of a spoiler because it opens as a very utopic kind of romantic drama. If you want to describe a little bit the world that we’re in, in the first, I don’t know, 20 minutes or so of. Don’t worry, darling.

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Speaker 3: Sure. We open in this idyllic, tiny desert community. It appears to be a happy little suburb in the 1950s, and our main characters are a couple, Jack and Alice, who can’t get enough of each other, as we’re told. Jack is played by Harry Styles and Alice by Florence Pugh, and all of the men in the community work for something called the Victory Project, very mysterious project that their wives don’t know much about. The men all work in their own divisions. They say they don’t know what the larger project is, and while they go off to work in their cars every morning, their wives make them breakfast, they send them on their way and then spend their days cooking, cleaning, attending dance class, going shopping. Everything is provided for them by the project, which is run by a charismatic founder named Frank, played by Chris Pine.

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Dana Stevens: Right. And so the couple scenes that we get with Frank early on, we very, very soon sense that there’s something sinister about Frank. Later, we’re going to learn that he is something of a Jordan Peterson esque men’s rights activist. But at the beginning, I would say he really sounds like a a typical sort of fifties charismatic leader. Right. He’s very optimistic. He speaks in bromides. He obviously believes in very stringent gender divisions. And he seems especially, you know, in a party scene at Frank’s house to be always surveilling the members of his planned community, especially the women, for any kind of unusual behavior. And speaking of unusual behavior, there is an outlying figure from the beginning, played by Kiki Layne, a woman named Margaret, who is one of Alice’s best friends, who is one of the first glitches we see in this happy world of victory, the name of the of the planned community. Tell me about Margaret.

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Speaker 3: Margaret is behaving very strangely from the moment we meet her. There was an incident that we learned about after the fact where she wandered off into the desert toward Victory Project headquarters, which the women are absolutely forbidden from doing. And she wandered off with her son. When she returned, she no longer had her son with her, and she began spouting off these cryptic warnings about how things in the community are not as they seem, which is totally at odds with the experience Alice is having at this point. She spends her day preparing a roast for Harry Styles, who comes home and then performs oral sex on the table where Florence Pugh is, you know, sort of sprawled out, knocking dishes over. Things seem to be going pretty well for her. So. Margaret is the first hint we get that something is actually deeply wrong.

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Dana Stevens: Right. And she’s kind of a soothsayer. I mean, we see her in this state where we’re not sure if it’s induced by, you know, the overmedication because the red suited men who are kind of the enforcers, the minions of Frank’s will are keeping her down and keeping her medicated. But she she wanders into social events and makes these cryptic pronouncements about something being wrong. Everyone essentially thinks, oh, she’s mentally ill. Poor Margaret. You know, let’s let’s take her away out of our beautiful community. But Alice alone starts to notice things, both having to do with Margaret, having to do with her surrounding environment that just seems slightly off.

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Speaker 3: At one point, Alice sees Margaret standing on her lawn, clutching a red toy airplane, presumably her son’s airplane, the son that never came back from the desert. And then when Alice is on the town’s trolley, just sort of out for a spin for the day, she sees a red plane crash into the mountains out near Victory Project headquarters. And she’s very concerned. The trolley driver refuses to deviate from his route, so she sets out on foot into the mountains to investigate this plane crash. And she has a very weird experience where she presses her hands up against a window of this building and then all of a sudden she wakes up and she’s back at home in bed and she wakes up with this kind of gasp.

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Speaker 3: There are a lot of gasps in this movie to the point where John Powell score John Powell, the composer who is actually best known for his work on animated movies, he got an Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon, which is a terrific score. He does some really interesting things with the score in this movie where there are all these pants and gasps and female vocalizations that sort of play with this idea of breath. And so when she wakes up at home, no one believes her about the plane crash.

Dana Stevens: Doesn’t she also have visions there? It seems important. There’s so many kind of trippy vision moments in this movie that I can’t remember where they all fall. But I think when she gets to the Victory Project, building in the desert and places her hands against the glass, she also, for the first time, sees this series of strange visions, which include a Busby Berkeley style dance routine, which I believe the women, some of the women in the chorus of of that dream are, you know, her friends, people that she knows from the Victory Project. She sees, I don’t know, sort of like a blood spatter and a close up of an eyeball. And those things are repeated every time, you know, she slips into one of these fugue states. This is one of my first questions about her trip into the into the desert to see what happened with the plane crash. That leads to a plot thread that is never resolved. And so I want to bookmark it here. That plane is never explained, right? I mean, did I miss something? I know there’s a kind of a visual rhyme between that and the little boy’s lost toy plane, but we never actually learn why a plane did crash in the desert.

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Speaker 3: I have my theories, and they relate to the movie’s main revelation, but you definitely have to do some legwork yourself to arrive at that conclusion. This is not a movie that’s very interested in explaining itself, and I think that in some ways it under explains to the point where it doesn’t make sense. And that’s unfortunate because this movie with a different edit, I think could have been really, really, really good. But we’ll try to make sense of it ourselves once we arrive at our main twist.

Dana Stevens: Okay. We’ll save that for later. But I will also note that a lot of the things that she observes that are off have to do in some way with being a housewife, you know? And I think that’s where some of the movie’s feminist themes, or at least would be feminist themes. I’m not quite sure how thought through they end up being, but they come in with the stuff that she observes that’s wrong, right? There’s a there’s a moment this actually in the trailer, so there’s not spoiling anything where she’s cleaning a glass wall in her house and the wall starts to close in on her. So a very literal enactment of, you know, being a trapped housewife. She’s almost you think she’s going to be, you know, crushed to death, compressed between the glass wall and the wall behind it, and then snap it turns out to all be this vision. Another she’s breaking some eggs to make an omelet for her husband. And the eggs are empty. They’re just eggshells with nothing inside. Again, never explained. But they these are all moments that have to do with the material world of a housewife not being what it appeared to be.

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Speaker 3: Those eggs are another moment we’ll come back to because I have my theories about them as well. But things really come to a head for Alice when she witnesses Margaret on the roof of her house next door, slit her own throat. This is a major pivotal moment for her. And as soon as it happens, these men in red who keep popping up, they’re sort of wearing jumpsuits. They swarm and they drag her away.

Speaker 3: And when she next wakes up, because, again, she finds herself back at home in her next moment of consciousness, everyone tells her Margaret’s actually fine. She slipped from the roof. It was an accident. She’s not dead. It wasn’t an attempted suicide. And as she tries to insist that what she saw is what she saw, you know, there are elements of gaslight going on here. The town’s doctor starts to treat her the way Margaret was being treated, you know, suggesting that she needs pills, that she’s losing her mind, that even suggesting that something is wrong in the community is evidence of mental illness.

Dana Stevens: Right. And in fact, at one point, she gets electroshock therapy, I think, in an attempt to to further gaslight her and convince her that, you know, everything is just all in her mind. But the shock therapy doesn’t seem to work for very long. She’s she’s somewhat placid after she first awakes from it, but very soon gets back to her former skeptical state. All right. Well, we’re creeping up on the moment when we should start revealing some twist material here so we can work backwards from it. But first, I’m going to take a little break for another word from another sponsor.

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Dana Stevens: All right. We’re back and creeping up on the big reveal in Don’t worry, darling. But first, I want to talk about the dance scene, which we both thought was remarkable and somewhat inexplicable. One of Harry Styles Big moments in general. I would say that Harry Styles doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this movie. It’s much more Florence Pugh’s and Chris Pine’s movie, and maybe that’s for the best, because while I don’t agree with some critics that Harry Styles is terrible and he’s a singer who should not be acting, I don’t think that he’s the strongest performer in the movie. But he does get one big scene, which is at this somewhat cult like big event for the Victory Project where he I mean, I kept thinking of the Brownie two Girl Scout transition, you know, where you get your pin and you fly up to being a Girl Scout. That’s sort of what happens to him in relation to the Victory Project.

Dana Stevens: He gets raised in the hierarchy in some way, gets this ring that he’s been coveting since the beginning of the movie and at the ceremony where everybody’s kind of gathered to watch him move up to the next level, he throws himself into this dance, which is I’m not I just I’m not sure what is literally going on in this scene. It lasts a very long time. He seems to be throwing himself into it in this almost zombie like way, as if he’s being mind controlled or, you know, he’s puppeteers through this dance. And I just honestly don’t know what it was supposed to mean and don’t actually know whether Harry Styles is meant to be a good dancer or a bad dancer. What did you think of the dance scene?

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Speaker 3: I can’t tell you what the dance scene was meant to accomplish within this world. It’s almost just a little bit demeaning. Like he’s dancing for them all, like he’s being puppeteer. But it does serve in contrast to what’s going on in the bathroom at the time, because Alice becomes very emotional and distraught and sneaks off into the bathroom and meets with her friend Bunny, played by Olivia Wilde, and confesses to her that, you know, she’s unhappy and that she thinks something’s terribly wrong in the community and that the whole second act of the movie is basically just versions of Alice telling different people that she thinks something’s wrong in the community and being dismissed to the point where you could argue there’s too many scenes that actually happening.

Speaker 3: But in this particular scene, Bunny reacts slightly differently than some other people telling her, You know, you sound like Margaret in a very pointed way, but also emphasizing that, you know, they’re all lucky to be at the Victory Project and lucky to be in town and that she could ruin Jack’s big promotion. You know, as Jack is out on stage, tap dancing for all the other guys.

Dana Stevens: Yeah. It’s a moment when you realize that Bunny, the Olivia Wilde character, is, while she is a close friend of Alice’s, is also an enforcer. You know, it’s I mean, it’s a really a moment when you see that that her consciousness has been thoroughly invaded by the antifeminist patriarchal ethic of the town, and that she wants to make sure that things stay in order just as much as the men do.

Dana Stevens: But, Marissa, I completely agree with you that there are too many scenes that have the same message. And once again, I think that’s a structuring problem with the script. This movie is not badly acted, it’s not badly directed. It actually looks beautiful and has a great visual style. There’s a couple of moments that are maybe a little over directed and show off like that 360 degree shot early on at the party where Olivia Wilde is kind of making the audience nauseous with her circling camera.

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Dana Stevens: But in general, I think this movie’s problems are at the level of script, and that’s the stuff that we’re going to get into now, because, as I said, the reveal happened so late that there are a lot of questions still hanging by the end of the movie. So I think the next big moment to get to and another thing that is sadly to me left hanging because it’s one of the best scenes in the movie, is this confrontation a moment when Alice, who has now had her consciousness raised right? I mean, she’s been red pilled or red pilled herself and she’s not fully understood, but has definitely seen that there’s something going on behind the surface of life in victory and at a party at Frank’s house.

Dana Stevens: And we should mention also that Frank has a very icy and controlling wife played by Gemma Chan, who, like Olivia Wilde character, definitely wants to uphold, you know, the patriarchal system in Victory Town. They’re all in a party together. And that is the scene where Alice confronts Frank at a dinner party at his house. So this is maybe the only real confrontation between the two of them, the strongest characters in the movie, and the smartest characters in the movie. And to me it set up a further relationship between them that was never carried through.

Dana Stevens: And it was one of the big frustrations of the movie that, oh, wow, finally, you know, Alison Frank are having a conversation. She is kind of matching wits with him and he actually enjoys it. Right? He wants to be challenged in some way. And here Frank reminded me really of, you know, the sort of debate me mentality, you know, of the of the right wing Twitter persona, you know, somebody who wants to be challenged so that he can show off his own power. I thought it was a really subtle interaction between them. And I was sad that it wasn’t followed up on later in the movie.

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Speaker 3: To me, there’s a line here where Frank says at one point to Alice, I’m disappointed. I expected more from you. And I was like, Unfortunately, I agree with Frank. This scene to me was a point in the movie where Alice, as the protagonist, lost me a little bit because she’s so easily goaded. Into arguing with Frank in front of everyone. And this is again, a script problem.

Speaker 3: She alludes to a lot of problems within the community that we just haven’t seen before. For example, one element she uses as evidence that something’s wrong is that many of the different couples at the table met the same way by finding a train ticket on the floor and having it handed to them. This is the first we’re hearing of it. And so while that is definitely suspicious, it’s something that kind of comes out of nowhere and that she has no further proof. She’s not the sharpest protagonist to be squaring off against Frank. And I found that to be a little bit disappointing. But you’re right that the dynamic between them is definitely underexplored.

Dana Stevens: All right. We’re tiptoeing up now on the twist, a very confusing twist of Don’t worry, darling.

Dana Stevens: So let’s take a quick break for one more word from our sponsor. If you enjoy the show, please consider signing up for Slate Plus. Slate Plus members get an ad free experience across the network and exclusive content on many shows. And you’ll also be supporting the work we do here on the Spoiler special. Sign up now at Slate.com slash spoiler plus to help support our work.

Dana Stevens: All right. Now we get to the good Stuff and we can start going back and asking what exactly some of the things that came earlier meant. Can you lead us through the reveal?

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Speaker 3: Absolutely. So after the dinner party confrontation. Alice begs Jack to leave victory and get them both out of there because something is wrong. And Jack seemingly agrees with her. They pack, they get in the car, and then he becomes emotional and says that he tried to prevent it. And then all of the red men in jumpsuits swarm.

Speaker 3: So at this point in the movie, it’s clear something’s up with victory. It’s telegraphed, I think, pretty clearly that we’re maybe not in the same time that we think that there are a lot of misdirects before that. You know, there is some talk of whether the Victory Project involves making weapons. So it’s suggested that maybe we are in the fifties, but the Victory Project has a more sinister purpose then I think you get. Perhaps hints, particularly with the way Frank speaks about, okay, maybe we’re not in the fifties, maybe this is some sort of cult out in the desert where they’re sort of playacting fifties life.

Speaker 3: But once Alice is taken away, we learn the truth, which is that in fact, they’re all living in a kind of VR simulation. They’re actually contemporary characters. And this is a program where men in the 21st century can coerce women, drug them, basically, and strap them into this program and then live out this kind of, you know, domestic fantasy with these women who are, in fact, unconscious and not consenting.

Dana Stevens: Yeah, she is. Clockwork Orange Dial has her eyes propped open. Alice, I’m talking about is shackled to a bed and is in fact being, you know, puppeteer by this program. And it’s also worth mentioning that the Harry Styles in that alternate 21st century universe is a very different man in the victor, a universe. He’s the suave British man who, you know, is incredibly loving to his wife and is presented as essentially sort of a dream husband. Right. But then we realize that in the in the real physical world, he is this American guy who seems to be something of a kind of scruffy, almost an incel. Right. I mean, a sort of lonely loser who’s on the margins of society, who can’t get a job while she, on the other hand, in that universe, at least before she was shackled to a bed and had her eyes propped open, was a doctor, was happy and her job was accomplished.

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Dana Stevens: So again, here’s where the feminist themes kick in, right? There was a universe where she was achieving more than he was and was happier than he was and was sort of the more successful member of the couple. And he punishes her for it by essentially kind of signing up. I guess this is all stuff that’s pure speculation because we never see Chris Pine in the analog world, which I think is a huge floor of the movie, right? I mean, you need to know who this computer programmer is, who for some reason is conscripting all these men into this program. But at any rate, Harry Styles, his real world character, is conscripted into it and and puts his wife into this situation.

Speaker 3: In fact, we don’t see any of the characters other than Jack and Alice in the present day. And because the twist comes so late, I think that’s because there just isn’t time. And that is definitely a major flaw in the movie. I would also note that, you know, Alice’s life as a surgeon is not necessarily happy. You know, she says that she loves her job, but she is working 30 hour shifts because Jack is unemployed. She comes home. Their apartment has no hot water. He’s no help. You know, he sort of grumpily says that he didn’t make dinner because she didn’t text him back about what she wanted. You know, she’s definitely living a life that I think is not entirely happy.

Speaker 3: I kind of wish the movie had explored that a little bit more because it takes a very black and white view of things. Either she can have this career where, you know, she’s a successful surgeon or she can have this alternate reality because at one point she is tempted to stay in the alternate reality of the 1950s utopia that is in fact very controlling and sinister. And the movie doesn’t really seem to understand that there are in-betweens. You know, it’s reluctant to criticize the kind of capitalist existence that she’s living in contemporary life because the only alternative it seems like it can imagine is this 1950s dystopia.

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Dana Stevens: Yeah, and that’s one of the places where the would be critique of patriarchy in this movie is kind of incoherent because I would agree with you. Obviously, she doesn’t seem happy in her relationship in the real world with scruffy Jack neckbeard Jack, as I call him in my review. But. But she is fulfilled in her job. And so the movie almost seems to be positing, right, that you either get to be this overworked tool of capitalism, but you’re at least free to have a job as a woman, or you submit completely to the Chris Pine controlled, you know, the suffocating world of a place like victory. And that just doesn’t, among other things, make much sense as a statement about feminism in today’s world, you know, and about the state of systemic sexism or MeToo or anything in the world that we actually exist in. So it’s almost as if this movie is critiquing sort of Betty Friedan era feminism in 2021, which is just not a very necessary project.

Speaker 3: This revelation of the VR world also raises some questions about what we’ve seen leading up to this point. One thing that I don’t think is ever satisfyingly explained is there are earthquakes within the town of victory that happen every now and then, and that the women speculate are related to the Victory Project, which we learn is not really a project at all. When the men in victory go off to work, they’re actually leaving the simulation to go back to the 21st century, in Jack’s case, to work all day to be able to afford this VR lifestyle. He’s basically dedicated his life to his video game habit with his sex slave wife.

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Dana Stevens: It doesn’t really make sense. I kept on thinking about, you know, the question sort of who benefits, Like, what’s the economics of this situation in the real world. Chris Pine’s frank character, you know, has built some unbelievably complex maths computer simulation, and there seemed to be something, something missing from the description of the motive for this, this whole project. And again, it would just have been so much more satisfying if Frank were a bigger part of the last third of the movie. And maybe that’s just because I love Chris Pine in everything, and I’d really like to see him playing a villain. He really thinks his teeth into that role. But even the end of Frank in this movie, which I think we can start revealing what happens to all these people now, but the way Frank leaves the movie to me was just such a disappointment.

Speaker 3: Frank leaves the movie because once after we get this flashback sequence where Alice understands her actual life is, you know, she’s strapped to a bed and she’s to be a surgeon, She’s regained her memories, in part because Jack keeps humming a tune from a song he used to sing back in the present when their relationship was good. She has an awakening and she winds up killing Jack in self-defense because he’s basically in the process of begging her forgiveness and starts squeezing her. So she smashes him on the head with the glass. And when she does that, it kind of sets into motion all of the women of the community seem to have an awakening and a realization that something is wrong.

Dana Stevens: This is totally unexplained, right? I just have to burst in and just say like, I don’t know why there’s this mass consciousness raising among the women a victory. Why did they not listen when both Margaret and Alice went around saying to their face, There’s something wrong? But the fact that she kills Jack, which they wouldn’t even have any way of knowing about except for Bunny, who discovers his body, that they suddenly all start to be getting red pill. So if that’s something that’s part of the matrix that Chris Pine’s Frank has created, we need to understand why.

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Speaker 3: At this point we also learn that Bunny has been aware that she’s in a simulation the whole time. She’s the only woman we know for sure is aware that it’s a simulation. And again, I think this was a missed opportunity because Bunny’s motivation for staying in the simulation is that in the real world, she lost her children. And so in the simulation, they’re alive. And that is why she wants to remain, which is very noble, except we never really see her being a terribly interested parents in the simulation. And I also it’s a very Wanda vision of her to want to stay in this alternate reality where she gets to be a mom.

Speaker 3: But I also thought it was a little bit of a cop out. You know, there are women today who embrace the trad wife lifestyle and are, you know, complicit in upholding these patriarchal values. And I think it would have been much more daring if the movie had had a character, a female character, who could articulate the appeals of that. They sort of hint at it with Frank’s wife, Shelly Gemma Chan, where she defends him at the dinner table, but then she inexplicably stabs him at this point in the movie, and it wasn’t clear to me whether she stabbed him because she discovered she’s living in a simulation against her consent or if she was in on it with him and was disappointed in his failure to control Alice this whole time. So to me, even more so than Frank, I really wanted the villain monologue from Shelly herself. I would have really enjoyed if she were the mastermind the whole time.

Dana Stevens: I really, really hated the moment when Gemma Chan’s character Shelly, stabs Frank to death because first of all, she has been a secondary character throughout the movie who we’ve barely seen, right? Who has one characteristic that she is, you know, very controlling and believes in the Victory Project and her husband. So if she’s going to make that complete 180 degree turn around and stab him to death, we need to know her motives and we need to know more about their relationship.

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Speaker 3: Her dialogues suggest that she was in on it with him because she calls him a stupid man and says it’s her turn now. And I was like, Oh, is she going to take over the simulation? But there’s zero follow up. We never see her again or hear from her.

Dana Stevens: Yeah, exactly. So what what kind of satisfaction are we supposed to derive from her somehow awakening again? We have no idea how and killing her husband. So that’s one reason it’s disappointing. But secondly, Frank and Alice never get a last confrontation, right? Because while that’s happening, Alice is trying to hightail it out of town and out of the project, being chased by the red suited minions who are trying to kill her. And what I have to admit is a very well filmed car chase with these gorgeous, you know, rounded, shaped kind of candy colored fifties cars.

Dana Stevens: I love that desert chase scene from a cinematic point of view, but here is one of my biggest questions about the movie. It makes no sense why they don’t simply if they that the bad guys need Alice to die, why don’t they just kill her prone body that’s shackled to a bed in the real world? I mean, I guess we don’t know whether this universe obeys the rules of the matrix, where if your simulated body dies, your real body dies. But. But how else could it be? How could simulated Alice continue to live without a physical heart beating in a. Real Alice. So that moment to me was just sort of like, Guys, eliminate the middleman. You have a woman shackled to a bed and you want her to die. It’s not that hard to solve the problem since we’re right up on the ending now.

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Dana Stevens: We’ll get to my second biggest complaint, which is I don’t understand what happens at the end. Like, if I had to actually walk point by point through those last moments as she approaches the Victory Project, this Jetsons kind of looking building in the middle of the desert, what the movie is telling us happens to her. Can you describe the last, I don’t know, minute and a half of the movie?

Speaker 3: Yes. As she’s, you know, at this threshold and her vision of Jack is telling her not to go. She presses herself up against the barrier and it cuts to the title. It’s a black screen and it says, don’t worry, darling. And you hear this gasp in the background. Yeah.

Dana Stevens: Against a black screen, Right. So she puts her hands against the glass. She has the same old vision of the Busby Berkeley careens and the eyeball and all that. So we think that that means she’s going to go back to the analog world, then a gasp in the dark. The words don’t worry, darling on screen. So situation A she’s you know, in the in a bed in the real world next to the dead Harry styles with a beard.

Dana Stevens: Right. Option B she is waking up trapped in victory town and is going to have to continue to live that life with with or without. We don’t know the fake English Harry Styles. And there is a very big difference between those two outcomes, and I think it is a complete copout. I nobody has done this, but let’s create a straw man who is defending this ending on the grounds of ambiguity. I am shouting that straw man down because this is a traditional genre movie in many ways, right? It’s obviously shouting out to The Stepford Wives and The Matrix and I don’t know, Pleasantville and all kinds of previous movies about utopias that turn out to be dystopias and smothering fifties communities and so forth. And it matters whether Florence Pugh’s character escaped from the Red Coats or not. Do you think she did?

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Speaker 3: I will be that straw man for you, Dana, because I have to say, I didn’t hate the ambiguity of the ending. I think that if a lot of things had happened differently in the movie, it would actually have been a really interesting, you know, Inception top way to end the movie. The problem for me is that, okay, so if she wakes up, in reality, she’s free. Obviously, she has to deal with the fallout if she wakes up in the Victory Project. The illusion has, it seems, been shattered. You know, the horror of the Victory Project is not that all these Redcoat men are coming to kill her. It’s that she trapped in this bland, you know, 1950s dystopia where she has no control and no choice. If Jack is, in fact dead in real life and can’t come back to the project, to me, it’s not that scary for her to be pursued by all of these bad guys.

Speaker 3: The horror element came from everything seeming fine. So in that aspect, I would say it’s not a very satisfying ending, but I wouldn’t have minded the ambiguity if the movie had done more work and had had a less Hollywood conventional ending where it was sort of the action sequence car chase in the desert and had stuck with the more psychological horror.

Dana Stevens: Yeah, it’s not the ambiguity per se I have a problem with. I’m not saying all movies must have an ending that is readable and makes sense. It’s that it didn’t do the work like you say. I mean, I don’t love the movie Inception either, but at least it earns that ambiguous ending by being a movie that’s all about, you know, competing realities and dreamscapes and the ambiguity of what’s real and what’s dream. Whereas this movie seems to be have a very simple trajectory toward trying to get back to the awesome authenticity of not being in a simulation and yet ends suspending us between those two worlds.

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Dana Stevens: And if it is true that she woke back up in the simulation, it’s very hard to imagine what her next day would look like. What is she going to do, go around and start to become the the new cult leader of the community? I mean, are they still being programmed by some guys in a in an office somewhere back in the real world? And if so, how can she call herself free or, you know, be liberating the people of that community? I just that’s on a literal level. But on a thematic level, if this is supposed to be a movie about, you know, gaslighting and, you know, sexism and gender inequality and all of this stuff, then like, what has she accomplished by making a bunch of simulated housewives know that they’re simulated while being stuck in the simulated reality? It just doesn’t say anything about feminism. And therefore, I shake my fist at this ending. But I appreciate your defense.

Speaker 3: I do wonder to what extent this movie got chopped up in editing because Kiki Layne, who played Margaret, actually said that she had been cut for much of the movie and had a much larger role. And I a little bit wonder whether that role was in the simulated reality or whether it was in the 21st century, because I think that a lot of these problems could have been helped by revealing the twist much earlier and then taking the time to actually explore the implications instead of what we get, which drags out the mystery, but then rushes the resolution.

Dana Stevens: Right? That would have made for better drama, right. And better character portraiture. But it would also have made for better science fiction because then instead of this very familiar. You’re Oh, they’re simulated. Just like in The Matrix and many other movies we’ve seen. Instead, there could be some sort of exploration of what it means to be simulated and how once you know you are simulated, you manage that reality, which could have made for far more challenging and interesting movie. All of that said, I think we can both agree that we were kind of disappointed by this movie, wouldn’t you say, as the second outing of Olivia Wilde, whose directorial career I still think seems promising and interesting. Are you looking forward to her next film?

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Speaker 3: I was a big fan of Booksmart. I think this movie had its terms for all that. It didn’t live up to them in the end, but I hope her next movie, whatever the outcome, will have less drama attached to it.

Dana Stevens: Yeah, it’s almost like it’s a third or two thirds of a movie that hasn’t been fully completed in either the editing room or just at the script level. Anyway, I am very, very relieved that I got to air these doubts and thoughts with you. So thanks for joining me to talk about. Don’t worry, darling.

Speaker 3: I had a lot of fun. Thank you, Dana.

Dana Stevens: That’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate Spoiler special podcast feed.

Dana Stevens: And if you like the show, please read it and review it in the Apple Podcast Store or wherever you get your podcasts. And also, if you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil or any other feedback you’d like to share. Send it to spoilers at Slate.com. Our producer today is Kristy Taiwo Makanjuola. Alicia montgomery is the Vice president. Audio Asleep for Marissa Martinelli. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you again soon.