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How ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Palm Springs Locations Add to the Excitement

Olivia Wilde remembers driving to Palm Springs for the first time 20 years ago, admiring the mid-century modern architecture, palm trees, lush golf courses and flowing fountains, a green city in the middle of a desert. Every time the New York native looked out the window, the same thought ran through her head: “If we settled on Mars, this would be it.”

“It felt like the ultimate expression of man’s dominance and power,” says Wilde over the phone, while strolling through New York. “It’s so beautiful, but it’s also a really strange place. If it weren’t for all the comforts that man has created, you would die very quickly here. And it’s the desert, so it’s scary. I remember thinking that one day we have to make a horror movie.”

That day has come with “Don’t Worry Darling,” which opens in theaters on September 23 after world premiere next week at the Venice Film Festival, a psychological thriller about a couple (Florence Pugh and Harry Styles ) who lives in a utopian desert community called The Victory Project. It’s a place where the men go out in the mornings in their old Corvettes and Pontiacs for mysterious jobs while the women stay home, making the beds, scrubbing the bathtubs, and cooking a pot roast for dinner. The ethos, in the words of community leader Frank (Chris Pine), is all about extracting “pure, unbridled potential.” That and hedonism. Women should also keep liquor cabinets fully stocked.

As the song says, “It’s the good life,” if you’re one of the men fondling his submissive wife over a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Otherwise, to use another line of the same sinatra song, “You hide all the sadness you feel.” The tension between the seductive glamor of the colony and the level of control it imposes on the women who live there (imagine the most draconian HOA and you’ll get the picture) is gradually exposed as Pugh’s character begins to question his surroundings in the course of the two films. – hour of execution time.

Palm Springs represents the otherworldly setting for Project Victory in “Don’t Worry Darling,” an elite community with some dark secrets.

(Merrick Morton/Warner Bros. Pictures)

There was a time when “Don’t Worry Darling” might not have happened in Palm Springs. Wilde, writer Katie Silberman and production designer Katie Byron, the trio who collaborated on Wilde’s directorial debut, the acclaimed 2019 teen comedy “Booksmart,” had embarked on an early road trip to the desert to start scouting locations. It was July 2020, hotter than hell and the start of the pandemic, which made the Victory Project’s revolving dinner life feel like complete fantasy. Taking in all the butterfly roofs of communities like Canyon View Propertiesthey were sure they had found the setting for the movie.

But due to COVID, says Wilde, “the very reasonable powers that be” suggested moving production to New Zealand to save money. Wilde understood the logic but resisted, believing that, on a subconscious level, Palm Springs connected to what she calls “patriarchal masculinity” that was essential to the story she was telling.

“For me, New Zealand is this ecological gem that is evidence of the power of nature,” says Wilde, “and it feels connected to Mother Nature and womanhood. I think if I did a sequel about matriarchy, New Zealand would be a reasonable place to go because it’s a place where you go to be humbled by nature. That’s the opposite of what Frank’s character wants. He wants people to feel that nature humbles itself in his presence, that man has molded nature to his will.”

CHRIS PINE as Frank in New Line Cinema's

Chris Pine as Frank, the charismatic leader of the Victory Project, in “Don’t Worry Darling.”

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

The location of Frank’s house was of vital importance, and Wilde was fortunate to secure the Kaufmann Desert House, a marvel of modernism, a house made of glass, steel, and Utah stone, epitomizing the aesthetic of the interior lifestyle. and outside of Southern California. The house, built in 1946 to designs by Richard Neutra, has been immortalized in Photographsincluding Slim Aarons “Poolside Gossip” a shot that Wilde had coincidentally pinned to his wall while developing “Don’t Worry Darling.”

“Having that picture on the wall and then being able to crawl inside felt like that scene in ‘Mary Poppins’ when jump to the chalk drawings on the sidewalk,” says Wilde.

The film makes use of a couple of other Palm Springs landmarks, City Hall and the Visitor’s Center, both designed by renowned architect Albert Frey. But for another key location, the building that stands as the mysterious headquarters of Project Victory (employees only!), the film’s location manager Chris Baugh ventured a couple of hours north to the Mojave Desert community of Newberry Springs. There, atop a 150-foot cinder cone, stands a building known as the Volcano Housea saucer-shaped structure that appears to have materialized from another planet or dimension.

The Volcano House in Newberry Springs serves as the setting for the Victoria Project’s headquarters in “Don’t Worry Darling”.

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

“We had chills down our spines when we first saw it,” says Byron. Adds cinematographer Matthew Libatique: “She seems to blend into the landscape. It’s a hike to get out, but when everyone saw it, they knew: This is it. This is what Project Victory headquarters would look like.”

The triumph associated with the name of the community seems to be confined, since the movie trailer indirect, to a small portion of the population. And yet, Wilde says, it’s easy to be seduced by mid-century, Rat Pack-era iconography, which is why he hoped to avoid “Don’t Worry Darling” being didactic in its depiction of his patriarchal world.

Filming at the Kaufmann Desert House as the film community gathers to hear a speech from Frank (Chris Pine).

Filming at the Kaufmann Desert House as the film community gathers to hear a speech from Frank (Chris Pine).

(Merrick Morton/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“There is a recklessness in debauchery that seems almost aspirational to us today,” says Wilde, “because it feels like a world without consequences. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find him really convincing and engaging. I didn’t want to make a preachy feminist parable that casts men as villains. I think the film is about our collective complexity in this futuristic infrastructure that objectifies women.

“And what I found so interesting was the complexity itself,” he continues. “That feeling of, ‘Oh, I’m interested in new wave feminism and smashing the patriarchy.’ But here I am caring this era, and you can use the Rat Pack as an example, was really horrible for women. That tension between knowing something is wrong but still being very seduced by it is where the movie sits. I want the audience to be pushed back and forth between those emotions.”

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