Olivia Wilde publicity tour for her second feature film, Don’t Worry Darling, took a weird turn about a week ago. And this is from a tour with more weird turns than a drunken Le Mans race.
Dontworry Darling premiered at the Venice Film Festival last week to more publicity than the average film gets these days. The film stars Florence Pugh (Princess Inanna in the upcoming Dune sequel) as a housewife to Harry Styles’ character in a strange utopian experimental enclave in the American desert.
Shenanigans with Harry Styles, Shia LaBeouf, and spitting costars
But amidst all the drama going on off-screen (broken marriages with Jason Sudeikis, possible adultery, firing Shia LaBeouf for…reasons, Florence Pugh boycotting press tours, and costars possibly spitting on each other) came an odd revelation from director Olivia Wilde herself.
Wilde claimed that the villain in the psychological thriller—played by Chris Pine of Star Trek fame—was based on the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson.
Who is Jordan Peterson?
For those who don’t know, Jordan Peterson is a bit of a celebrity in his own right, just not a Hollywood one.
He is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. He shot to fame in 2016 for making a video in which he vehemently objected to a proposed Canadian law that made it, effectively, illegal not to use someone’s preferred pronouns.
To say Dr. Peterson is a bit of a controversial figure would be a significant understatement.
To be clear, Olivia Wilde (House, Tron: Legacy, The O.C.) did not write the screenplay.
The screenplay is an original work by former Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman along with Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke. Neither has made any statements (as far as we could find) that either confirmed or denied that Peterson was the basis of Pine’s character.
Chris Pine, who plays the allegedly Peterson-based character “Frank,” also hasn’t confirmed or denied the association.
What was actually said
The admission came in an interview conducted by director and star Maggie Gyllenhaal.
WILDE: Terrifying. We based that character on this insane man, Jordan Peterson, who is this pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community. You know the incels?
WILDE: They’re basically disenfranchised, mostly white men, who believe they are entitled to sex from women.
GYLLENHAAL: Oh, right.
WILDE: And they believe that society has now robbed them—that the idea of feminism is working against nature, and that we must be put back into the correct place.
GYLLENHAAL: Well, they must be psyched. Things are going really well for them.
WILDE: Yeah, they’re actually succeeding in many different ways. But this guy Jordan Peterson is someone that legitimizes certain aspects of their movement because he’s a former professor, he’s an author, he wears a suit, so they feel like this is a real philosophy that should be taken seriously.
WILDE: Yeah. But it was a dream to work with all these evolved men on this movie who understood what we were trying to say.
What’s the big deal?
So, why is this odd?
Mainly because Wilde’s claims about Peterson are so clumsy and shallow. It smacks of either cheap publicity-seeking association or incompetent storytelling.
The connection between Dr. Peterson and “incels” comes solely from a 2018 NYTimes hit-piece article written by Nellie Bowles. In the article, Bowles suggests the psychologist advocates forcing women to marry incels against their will; “enforced monogamy.”
Peterson, perhaps, put it best when he suggested that if a reporter was to write a hit piece, she should at least write “something that someone, somewhere, actually believes in.”
“No one,” Peterson added emphatically, of any scholastic standing believes in such a concept, anywhere.
Indeed, a thorough search of Peterson’s work doesn’t reveal a single—not one—instance of him advocating anything even remotely similar to what Bowles alleges. Nonetheless, the weight of the NYTimes brand made the article go viral.
Wilde is an avowed feminist (whose birthname, ironically, was Cockburn). Her description of Peterson as “insane” goes well beyond clumsy, as it is something so easily disprovable by a quick online search.
A cynical ploy?
Peterson has lectured at Harvard and UfT for many years and was frequently voted the favorite teacher by his students. His h-index score (a recognized measurement of scholastic influence) is a whopping 57, and his academic work has been cited almost 19,000 times.
So, like him or hate him, to call Dr. Peterson “insane” or someone who is followed strictly because of his title and clothing makes Wilde look foolish.
If Wilde had suggested that she directed Pine to base his character on, say, the media’s caricature of Peterson, that would be a different matter. But that isn’t what she said.
That only leaves us with two possible reasons to claim the Dr. Peterson association. One, Wilde cynically said it for the publicity. Or, two, she based a major character of her film on a shallow, ignorant concept that would have taken ten minutes of research to show was utter nonsense.
Suppose you can’t get publicity for how good your film might be? In that case, many off-screen antics and shenanigans connected with celebrity names will undoubtedly create some grist for the gossip mills on social media.
Ms. Wilde has been rumored to be directing an upcoming Marvel movie. Don’t Worry Darling opens on Sept 23rd.