Olivia Wilde’s recently released film, Don’t Worry Darling, boasts a star-studded cast and a boisterous load of drama preceding the film. Household names like Florence Pugh and Harry Styles brought the film to social media stardom in weeks leading up to its release. With the rise of TikTok, viewers may begin to observe the way in which the popularization of social media shapes their perceptions of upcoming films.
Don’t Worry Darling was, from the instant its trailer aired, a bulls-eye for a scrutiny audience. Harry Styles’ bad acting was gloated over before his performance even started, audiences defined Olivia Wilde for her on-set relationship with the actor and magazines picked apart the cast dynamic. This sensationalist, made-for-tabloid background could very likely outlive the original point of the production.
The achievements the film made in cinematography were easily overlooked—likely because visually pleasing scenes just aren’t as fun to talk about as drama.
The film follows Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) and his subservient housewife Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) as she is going to days of scrubbing, cleaning and cooking beyond the point of madness. Alice slowly becomes aware of a life beyond the one she has been allowed by Jack one, where she spends days surgeries and is the head of a single-income household.
The film makes powerful use of montage scenes, which metaphorically depicts the line between the “real world” and the suffocating simulation that Alice Chambers, played by Florence Pugh, resides in. Suffocation is made metaphor in two shots: Alice wrapping her head casually with plastic wrap, bringing on self-suffocation, and the glass window she scrubs daily forcing a smushed Florence Pugh flat against her back wall.
These scenes may nod to Alice’s stifle being both internal and external—while Jack forces her into this subordinate lifestyle, Alice is simultaneously resigned to it. Women’s willingness to partake in these norms is shown by Bunny, played by Wilde, who willingly participated in this pseudo-society.
The film was frequently in the spotlight for casting actors often in the public eye. Olivia Wilde has gained a cult following for her film Booksmart, And Florence Pugh and Harry Styles likewise have devoted fans who consume the most, or all, content that features them.
Marketing major at Santa Clara, Brendan McGloin, said that one of the most popular advertising techniques right now is to hire celebrities and get them to promote a project to their following.
“If you just go through one creator, and just use their following, then you can make so much money,” McGloin said. “If I had a big project, like a Superbowl ad, I want a celebrity; if I want to do well in the box office, I want Harry Styles and Florence Pugh.”
Despite much of the film’s draw lying in the prior drama and glamorous cast, the movie took a strong opposition to gender roles deeply rooted in society. In the simulated society Jack seeks out, he spends his days working to provide, while Pugh completes tasks that are traditionally associated with housewives.
Katie England, a junior at Santa Clara, says that Jack is “being brainwashed by a YouTube channel, which I think in our day, is equivalent to Andrew Tate.” Tate is an influencer who has come under scrutiny for misogynistic comments, which often condone rape culture and preached toxic masculinity.
“I think the men who are listening to he truly believe all these things he is telling him– he truly believes he’s helping his wife; a lot of men who are watching these Andre-Tate-type clips think that women want these things that they’re not explicitly saying that they want,” England said, nodding to a greater theme in film–male fulfillment in the reinforcement of an increased gender power dynamic.
While the film took an overt stand against misogyny, this progressive message may have been entirely overshadowed by the film’s presence in tabloids and TikTok. Three of four Santa Clara students interviewed shared that they anticipated the movie because of TikTok and social media content, and all of them could recount drama.
Leading up to the movie, rumors ridiculed Harry Styles’ incompetent acting on TikTok. Users propagated drama following the movie’s release claiming some of Jack and Alice’s sex scenes were non-consensual. This turn was especially surprising as Wilde emphasizing female pleasure in said scenes.
While Don’t Worry Darling had a strong (but arguably tired) message, the public’s eye wandered away from the point and towards the drama that brought social media scandal and box office sales.
Even if this message could trump all the film’s drama, it wouldn’t matter. Countless other films have used action as a vehicle to turn gender roles on their head. Films of this genre have been in popular culture since the 90’s, Silence of the Lambs being possibly the most iconic; If this “progressive” idea has been popular for over three decades, is it still progressive?
Most of the students interviewed prophesied the film’s legacy will be yet another made-for-fad film, with characteristically overwhelming profits. Many even went to see the film for its social media draw, attending the movie simply to pick apart presumed drama between cast members or to fulfill a predisposed opinion about the horrors of Harry Styles’ acting.
The film intended to bring decades-old gender inequality to light, but it clearly still survives in the minds of some men today. Audiences were undeniably distracted by the spectacle of the accompanying drama, and were quick to condemn Olivia Wilde for her part in it. The film reinforces a familiar message about women’s role in society, but creates a new narrative about social media and tabloids in marketing a film, and the aftertaste that this marketing supplement leaves in viewers’ minds.