‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Is the Latest Movie to Reference ‘The Stepford Wives’: Here’s Why the Original Still Resonates

“What do you think you will miss most about New York?”


Who doesn’t want to live in Stepford? It is a pleasant suburb full of beautiful lawns and gorgeous houses. School system is great. Also, as locals will tell you, this is a very progressive community. (Why, a black couple moved there recently!) But Joanna isn’t so sure. A wife and mother of two — and an aspiring photographer — she immediately moves to the cozy Connecticut town where her husband, Walter, has relocated her and their children. This Manhattanite can’t quite put her finger on it, but there’s something suffocating about the place. It’s just too damn cool. Joanna misses the noise. He misses the buzz of life.

Even if you don’t see it Stepford Wives, you probably know it well. In the 47 years since the movie hit theaters around Valentine’s Day 1975, the film has cast a long shadow across popular culture. Some movies become classics because of their artistry, while others become embedded in our collective consciousness because they strike something true about us. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, Stepford Wives A good film, but much of its staying power comes from the fact that it embeds itself in the national conversation.

That’s especially true with recent releases Don’t worry darling (Now Streaming): Olivia Wilde’s middle-of-the-road thriller, about a happy housewife (Florence Pugh) who discovers that her perfect life isn’t what it seems with husband Harry Styles, constantly compared to her. Stepford Wives. More shorthand than film, Stepford Wives Parodied, referenced, simplified and sometimes misremembered. Quite simply, it’s “movies about women who become compulsive robots.” But while that’s basically correct, it doesn’t do justice to what’s going on in that exciting thriller.

Stepford Wives, Tony Reed, Carol Mallory, Tina Lewis, Katherine Ross, Paula Prentice, Barbara
Photo: Everett Collection

Levine previously wrote another novel that was turned into a zeitgeist-y film, Rosemary’s baby, also only gradually becomes aware of a woman trapped in a golden cage. When he wrote Stepford Wiveswhich was published in 1972, he was inspired by a variety of factors: the popular belief at the time that we would soon all have robot domestic servants, Disneyland’s wacky animatronic Hall of Presidents exhibit, and his own divorce — though he insisted in 2002, “My wife was definitely from Stepford then.” There was no wife.”

She channeled those technophobic anxieties and personal delusions about suburban existence into a bestseller, a film adaptation directed by Brian Forbes, starring Katharine Ross as Joanna, with Peter Masterson as her completely oblivious husband, Walter. Theirs is an old-fashioned marriage – he the emotionally distant earning lawyer, she the child-rearing man – but a faint whiff of feminism is also evident. Not only does Joanna want to do her photography, she finds herself disgusted by the sleepy suburban luxury of Stepford. Many women are obsessed with housekeeping — their entire personalities are built around discussing cleaning products — which Joanna finds soul-destroying. None of them have hobbies? Are any of them alive?

Fortunately, Joanna meets Bobby (Paula Prentice), who has recently moved into the community and is equally horrified by how exciting it is. Fed up that Stepford has a men’s association, with nothing comparable for the women of the town, these fast friends decide to organize their own group. Trouble is, none of the wives are interested — and even more troubling, some of the town’s hotties start inexplicably abandoning their extracurricular activities. (Tina Lewis’s athletic Charmaine thinks nothing of destroying her beloved private tennis court — after all, she should really be spending her energy tending to her husband’s needs, right?) Walter doesn’t mind Stepford so much — isn’t he satisfied? A large room, with a room for him to develop photos? – But Joanna begins to suspect that something sinister is afoot.

Stepford Wives Picket Fence, USA was not as glorious as advertised – films such as Attack of the body snatchers And Night of the Living Dead Examines the decay at the center of American domesticity — but it also crystallizes various anxieties about a changing society, one that was embracing suburban contentment but also pushing against an old patriarchal mindset. Read as both feminist and anti-feminist at the time, Stepford Wives It seems to be a horror film about the ways women face social resistance while trying to escape outdated roles for themselves.

Stepford Wives Picket Fence was not the first film to suggest that USA is not as glorious as advertised, but it crystallizes various concerns about a changing society, one that embraces suburban complacency but also pushes back against an old patriarchal mindset.”

To be sure, the melodramatic qualities of the film may seem almost campy now, but Ross brings such a subtle edge to Joanna that only eventually does it become clear that Stepford is just the character’s latest frustration. Whether it’s meeting a scientist ex-boyfriend who reminds her of her life before she settled down or struggling to develop her eye as a photographer, Joanna isn’t just resisting the Stepford brainwashing — she’s afraid to enter the prison that’s often domesticated. makes for Becoming a dead-eyed, invincible person has been a huge fear for her long before she meets the real robot replicas made by the female Stepford wives.

Soon after the release of the book and film, the concept of “Stepford wife” emerged as a derogatory term for a fabricated groupthink—especially among women—that could often be sexist and derogatory. (“Stepford Wives” is the original “Woman Be Shopping.”) But the movie makes it fairly clear that the story’s portrait of programmed consent wasn’t the condition the Stepford women wanted—it was imposed on them by their husbands, who wanted life to go back to the way it was. will like Beautiful, smiling, submissive wives are an ugly male fantasy – a strange holdover from a bygone, backward world order.

The Stepford Wives 1975 Streaming Movie
Photo: Everett Collection

But the phrase has endured for other reasons: Stepford Wives Reveals urbanites’ disdain for the suburbs, often seen as safe and consistent, a place where once-vital people die — or, just as tragically, turn into complacent dullards. In Stepford, mindless consumerism is rampant — the film famously ends in a dazzling supermarket as robot wives shop in stores — and life’s messy vitality is wiped away like bathroom tile grout. Everything is spotless, nothing feels real. long ago the uterus It turned into a meme, Stepford Wives Warns of the terror of taking the narcotic blue pill.

In subsequent years, Hollywood has attempted to revisit and recreate the slithering paranoia of the 1975 film. There was a poorly received remake in 2004 starring Nicole Kidman, but in some ways the best reimagining of the material came courtesy of Jordan Peele, making his Oscar-winning directorial debut. get out transformed Stepford into a sweeping takedown of systemic racism. Cited in Peel, K Stepford Wives And Rosemary’s baby as motivation get out, not only expanded upon the concept of the original story but also critiqued it, underlining the intolerance beneath the benign platitudes of a nation. (You can easily picture Stepford residents voting for Obama for a third term.) By comparison, Don’t worry darling From simply the idea cribs Stepford Wives — along with other films, which I won’t specify so as to avoid spoilers — creating a toothless commentary on patriarchy that doesn’t seem as fresh as Levine’s mind decades ago.

Currently, Stepford Wives Hard to find online — it’s only available on Tubi, which requires you to sit through commercials during the film. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to them, but in this case, they added a cool new texture to the movie. Seeing the product of hawking women as frankly attractive, glossy as Fabrege, equating happiness with a clean house, was almost as disturbing as anything else. Stepford Wives.

Tim Grierson (@timgrierson) is Senior US Critic for Screen International. A frequent contributor to Vulture, Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times, he is the author of seven books, including his most recent. This is how you make a movie.


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