The Concept of Extreme Gaslighting Made Into a Thriller
A 1950s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community
begins to worry that his glamorous company could be hiding disturbing secrets.
I almost didn’t watch this movie simply because of the ridiculous amount of drama surrounding it. If you were somehow lucky enough to miss it all, congrats. There is a recap you can read at one point in this post but we’re here to talk about the movie itself..
There is no way to discuss this movie without blowing major plot points. To give you a short summary, I really liked the movie a lot and encourage you to give it a watch, especially if you were a fan of Get Out. If you liked Get Out, this movie will be right up your alley. It’s a bunch of mindfuckery that speaks to the power dynamic between men and women, misogyny, and gaslighting taken to a whole different kind of extreme.
From this point on, this post contains spoilers. However, the biggest of spoilers (like the ending and the truth of what is going on) are now hidden in dropdown text boxes you can only read by clicking to open them. I’m going to start doing this with all reviews.
THE DRAMA SURROUNDING PRODUCTION (Click to Show)
So, clearly, I was not there and can only speak to what it looked like following the progression of the story. This movie was originally supposed to star Shia LaBeouf as Jack (the main character’s husband) instead of Harry Styles. In August 2020, he left the movie. When it came time for the movie to premier, the director Olivia Wilde was asked about the change up in casting, and very much made it sound like she fired LaBeouf from the film:
“I say this as someone who is such an admirer of his work. His process was not conducive to the ethos that I demand in my productions. He has a process that, in some ways, seems to require a combative energy, and I don’t personally believe that is conducive to the best performances. I believe that creating a safe, trusting environment is the best way to get people to do their best work. Ultimately, my responsibility is to the production and to the cast to protect them. That was my job.”Olivia Wilde in an Interview With Variety Magazine, August 24, 2022
Just after the story went to print, LaBeouf responded to Variety via email and stated that he was not fired and that he bowed out of the project because he didn’t feel the cast had enough time to rehearse. He forwarded texts between himself and Wilde about the exit in which he explains that he has to bow out and then this message from her after they met in person to discuss the matter:
“Thanks for letting me in on your thought process. I know that isn’t fun. Doesn’t feel good to say no to someone, and I respect your honesty. I’m honored you were willing to go there with me, for me to tell a story with you. I’m gutted because it could have been something special. I want to make clear how much it means to me that you trust me. That’s a gift I’ll take with me.”Olivia Wilde to Shia LaBeouf via text August 16, 2020
According to LaBeouf, he officially quit the film the following day. Then Olivia Wilde sent him this video (he says the video is from August 19, 2020….two days after he quit the film) in which she’s essentially begging him not to give up on the movie and makes it sound like the problem had to do with the film’s star Florence Pugh:
“I feel like I’m not ready to give up on this yet, and I, too, am heartbroken and I want to figure this out,” she says in the video. “You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you’re open to giving this a shot with me, with us. If she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point and if you guys can make peace — and I respect your point of view, I respect hers — but if you guys can do it, what do you think? Is there hope? Will you let me know?”Olivia Wilde via Selfie Video Sent to Shia LaBeouf
This whole situation looks to me like Olivia Wilde was virtue signaling as clickbait for her Oscar contender film (I’m the super brave female director who fired a guy accused of being a monster). I’m not saying LaBeouf is a saint. He’s not and he’s admitted as such. He’s got a well-documented substance abuse problem which led to a troubling situation with his ex FKA Twigs. She has brought a lawsuit against him citing emotional distress and assault. LaBeouf has largely remained quiet on that case taking the stance that he has no right to say how something he did made someone else feel, but he does assert that some of her allegations are not true. The trial is set to begin in April 2023, though I doubt it will be covered like the Depp/Heard trial.
When LaBeouf disputed Olivia Wilde’s version of events to Variety, he also included a copy of the email he’d sent Wilde the day before (an email to which he’d also attached all of the same evidence he gave Variety). You can read the letter in its entirety here but I wanted to share this bit:
“What inspired this email today is your latest Variety story. I am greatly honored by your words on my work; thank you, that felt good to read. I am a little confused about the narrative that I was fired, however. You and I both know the reasons for my exit. I quit your film because your actors & I couldn’t find time to rehearse. I have included as a reminder the screenshots of our text exchange on that day, and my text to Tobey.
I know that you are beginning your press run for DWD and that the news of my firing is attractive clickbait, as I am still persona-non-grata and may remain as such for the rest of my life. But, speaking of my daughter, I often think about the news articles she will read when she is literate. And though I owe, and will owe for the rest of my life, I only owe for my actions.
My failings with Twigs are fundamental and real, but they are not the narrative that has been presented. There is a time and a place to deal with such things, and I am trying to navigate a nuanced situation with respect for her and the truth, hence my silence. But this situation with your film and my “firing” will never have a court date with which to deal with the facts. If lies are repeated enough in the public they become truth. And so, it makes it that much harder for me to crawl out of the hole I have dug with my behaviors, to be able to provide for my family.
Firing me never took place, Olivia. And while I fully understand the attractiveness of pushing that story because of the current social landscape, the social currency that brings. It is not the truth. So I am humbly asking, as a person with an eye toward making things right, that you correct the narrative as best you can. I hope none of this negatively effects you, and that your film is successful in all the ways you want it to be.“Shia LaBeouf via Email to Olivia Wilde
Again, I wasn’t there but it sure does look like Olivia Wilde is the one full of shit in the situation. She’s danced around it in further interviews or had moderators at press junkets just squash the question upon being asked (because he wasn’t in the film after all). If she lied about his firing and the reasons for it, she should issue a public apology. Big lies on top of tiny kernels of truth are how the Heard/Depp case blew up so big and why they were both awarded judgements. It’s not up to her to pile on to whatever he has to answer for if he didn’t do anything additional to deserve it. There was one “source” quoted who insinuated that he might have been manipulated/maneuvered into quitting (by Wilde) so he would think it was his idea, which would save his ego and free the project from his bad PR stink. If that was the case, she should ‘fess up. That’s not the same thing as being fired for the enforcement of some no assholes policy. Instead of being let go from the film for the public perception of him stemming from one instance of shit behavior, her lie makes it look like a second unrelated incident of shit behavior took place, establishing a pattern. Her lies could help shape the FKA Twigs case against him before he even has a chance to stand and present his side of events. Regardless of what the current social climate would have you believe, in this country, our court system is supposed to assume innocence until proven otherwise, not the other way around.
In addition to the Shia LaBeouf situation, the film’s star Florence Pugh refused press except for walking the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival premier. This movie was supposed to be an Oscar contender. That was the whole hullabaloo about it. The star doesn’t refuse to do press when they know there is a chance they might win an Oscar for it. That’s ridiculous. Usually, if there is big buzz around a movie, everyone involved goes on a promotional tour to campaign for the Oscar nomination. The star doesn’t sit that process out. Press is usually part of their contract when they get the job. It’s why actors hit up every late night show and tell the same stupid stories about production in every one the week of a movie’s release. Here’s an example: When Emily Blunt was doing the late night shows for her movie Edge of Tomorrow, she told the same story about filming with Tom Cruise at every appearance.
First there was a difference of opinion about the focus of the film during promotion. All Wilde seems to want to talk about is the sex scenes and how female forward they are (in, like, every interview) while Pugh didn’t want the movie reduced to that (she’s publicly taken issue with the sex-centric focus of the film’s PR narrative). Then there was Harry. Everyone knows now that Wilde and Harry Styles are together now but that allegedly blossomed during filming. The rumor mill says that Pugh grew increasingly frustrated with their PDA on set as it was pulling focus from making the actual movie, so much so that one “source” said that Pugh had to actually direct a few scenes because Wilde wasn’t on set. All of this supposedly led to a passive feud (hence the refusal to promote the movie) which was only compounded further by Pugh’s refusal to even really talk about the movie leading up to its release.
DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN?!?
IT’S ALL SO EXHAUSTING…
I knew all of this about the movie before having any clue what the hell the movie was about.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE MOVIE…
Okay, holy shit, you guys.
When the movie hit HBO Max a few days ago, I watched it. I genuinely had no intention of doing so. Not out of some stupid sense of protest or anything. I was just so sick of seeing headlines about it that I wasn’t interested anymore. However, I really do adore Florence Pugh. I don’t know her personally, obvi, but she seems so fearless in everything she does and I envy that about her.
Atmospherically, Don’t Worry Darling feels like Jordan Peele’s Get Out + a little bit of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut thrown in for good measure. I don’t know if the movie is full of brilliantly woven twists or if that was just confusion. It came together but also leaves you with a feeling like it wasn’t quite finished. Excellent build up, thanks almost exclusively to Pugh for carrying the entire film, and then it just kind of ends. I mean, I guess you could say it is a happy ending but it will leave you wanting more. I don’t know. It feels… incomplete? I watched the movie twice in twenty-four hours because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The movie follows Alice (Pugh) who is a woman living the idyllic 1950s life in a cookie cutter desert town populated by perfect cookie cutter couples. The men all work for the same man (Frank; played by Chris Pine) and each of them has a happy housewife at home. It’s not like they’re Stepfordian or anything like that. They just don’t have a lot of answers about their perfect little life and seem content to leave it that way. Then shit starts to fall apart. Alice witnesses one of her neighbors have a breakdown freaking out about the town they live in and how it’s not real. Later, Alice sees the same neighbor climb onto her roof and slit her own throat. She’s dragged away by mysterious men dressed in all red, and then you snap to her waking up. She’s immediately unsure if it happened or if she was dreaming because her
piece of shit husband acts like it didn’t happen. Everyone claims that the neighbor is fine and that she just tripped and fell. Shit just unravels in a spectacular fashion from there. Every time Alice digs further, she’s made to feel like it’s all in her head and her entire reality becomes one big question mark.
THE TRUTH: IT’S SO MUCH WORSE THAN YOU’RE IMAGINING (Click to Show)
In the real world, Frank (the boss man that all of the husbands work for) is a computer programmer who designed a virtual reality world. The perfect little 1950s desert township of Victory where every man is successful and every wife’s greatest pleasure is to cook, clean, and serve her husband. The happy housewives are actually victims being kept in a sleep state in the real world. They don’t know that Victory is computer program unless something goes very wrong. Any time one of them begins to question their reality, the men of the town use gaslighting to convince them that the wrongness they’re seeing is all in their heads.
In the real world (which is present day, not the 1950s), the men of Victory are all the internet troll type, none of whom can get their shit together. Jack (Harry Styles) is a loser of a husband to a woman who works long hours. When you get a glimpse of their life before Victory, she was a doctor who comes home from a thirty hour shift with six hours to eat, sleep, and get back up before her next shift begins. The second she walks through the door, Jack asks why she’s so late and complains that he’s starving. He’s a grown ass man who couldn’t be bothered to make his own food when she’s not around… Loser. Anyway. Exhausted, she also refuses his sexual advances and gets irritated with him when he tries to press further. His solution is to imprison his wife in a virtual reality so he can be happy and decide what happiness is for her. Ooooooooohmahgawd the fury…..
Florence Pugh owns the shit out of this movie. It’s not that everyone else was bad but the majority of the movie has the camera on her face so she kind of carries the entire thing. I mean, Harry Styles’s performance was flat almost the entire film. He has one moment where he flips out while sitting in his car and that moment was pretty intense…but that was the only one. Stick to the microphone, my friend. Watermelon Sugar is fire.
One of the sex scenes is hot (dinner at the table if you know what I mean) but the other feels a bit rapey. Honestly, you could lose both sex scenes entirely and the plot wouldn’t be changed by it, especially given that their frequent and loud sex is referenced by a neighbor in dialog. Olivia Wilde says the sex scenes were important to show a woman’s sexual hunger instead of it just being about the man but I would argue that her reasoning is completely antithetical to the entire plot of the movie (see THE TRUTH hidden section above). I’m with Pugh. Wilde should stop making the movie all about the sex scenes. I get her point. Yay women and lady orgasms but the promotion of the film would have benefitted way more from focus on how artsy and surreal it is.
Olivia Wilde proves once again that she is one hell of a director, but I think some of the kudos for this film needs to go to the editor Affonso Galcalves. Don’t Worry Darling is gorgeous. The editor took the vision Wilde created and polished it into a truly memorable piece of art. Visually, Don’t Worry Darling is cut together in a manner that’s unsettling and it really leaves a lasting impression.
Overall, the movie is well worth the watch but it needs your full attention or you will miss lots of important details.
Have you watched Don’t Worry Darling???
Let me know what you thought below in the comments!