Starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, this psychological thriller has become a media sensation over the past month. However, amidst the unsatisfying ending and many unanswered questions, what is it really about and is it worth watching?
The film is set in a planned community near the California deserts, where life is centered around “Project Victory.” Every day the men go to work as part of this mysterious scheme, while the women are left to do housework and gossip. The community is led by the seemingly charismatic and charming Frank, supported by his wife Shelley. In what seems like a fun life, there is one catch – women are not allowed to ask about the “Victory” project. Tensions build and emotions run high as Alice (Florence Pugh) gradually realizes the ugly truths hidden beneath this “perfection.”
My first criticism of the film is that I think Wilde tried to do too much at once. While it introduces various appealing concepts like paranoia and oblivion into the production, I think it delves into too many plot holes and characters, which ended up leaving the audience confused. In my opinion, the film felt unfinished and more effort should have been made to expand her focus beyond Alice’s point of view so that the other characters could develop further.
For example, near the end it is revealed that “Project Victory” is actually a simulated world that Frank created through a type of virtual reality. The couples’ physical bodies are still in the real world, but they are connected to glasses that transport them to the land of Project Victory. The men involved in the project are the only ones who know about it, while the women are blissfully unaware that their lives in this fantasy land are not real.
Obviously, Frank (Chris Pine) plays a key role in the development of the story, as he created the chaotic yet perfect land in which it takes place. However, he is given little to no screen time, and there is no depth to his life. the real world or what events led him to this creation.
Moreover, another character who, in my opinion, should have been developed further was Bunny (Olivia Wilde) – Alice’s neighbor. In a quick, fast-paced scene, she reveals that she is the only other woman in the country who knows about the false reality of Project Victory. She explains that she chose to be there because she can stay with her children who died in the real world. While this is an important plot development, her character is sidelined and the film quickly shifts to Alice trying to escape. I feel this was a missed opportunity for a great sequence delving into Bunny’s life in the real world – her emotions, her discovery of The Victory Project, and more. You could also say that by neglecting her character, she is simply reduced to a mother figure, which goes against the films overall message that women should not be underestimated or controlled by the patriarchy.
There were also many questions, especially surrounding the ending of the film. Alice is seen in a classic car chase when suddenly the screen fades to black and the last sound is her breathing. Many feel that the uncertainty of her survival makes the film unsatisfying, however I think the cliffhanger complements the style of the film perfectly. It’s all about mystery and obsession, so by portraying Alice’s feelings in the audience, Wilde skillfully portrayed the emotions in the film.
Despite the many open questions to be answered, the film does convey some defining messages. For example, Alice’s partner, Jack (Harry Styles), initially joins Project Victory after feeling guilty about losing his job and forcing Alice to take on more shifts despite what she said she was happy about it. In an attempt to fix this, Jack wanted to transport her to a world where she didn’t have to lift a muscle and could depend on him for everything, thus dealing with toxic masculinity. He wanted her to be happy, but ironically, he took everything away from her. This suggests that when we are upset or depressed, we can sometimes interpret situations differently than they really are. In the end, Alice kills Jack without remorse, and their relationship falls apart due to Jack’s depression.
Another message was the dangers of routine. While modeling, the women were so blinded by their busy schedules of cooking, cleaning and partying that they were completely oblivious to the bigger picture. This may be due to how in today’s society we have conditioned ourselves to routine and in doing so can distance ourselves from much more important matters.
Overall, I would say the movie was mediocre as there were some positives but there are many aspects that could be improved. I would recommend this film to anyone who likes a good plot twist and anyone interested in the 1950’s where Wilde managed to capture the aesthetic of that era. I’m excited to watch Wilde develop as a director because I see great potential in her work.