It would be easy to take a side on the issue of Jordan Peterson. Certainly at this point most everyone has. The controversial Canadian professor, author, free speech activist and public speaker has developed a massive international reputation over the past three years since he initially spoke out against the Canadian Bill C16, which threatened to make anti-transgender speech illegal.

In leftist circles, Peterson has been branded a transphobe and a clown. But he’s developed a bad reputation in the fringe corners of the right where he’s been written off as everything from a globalist, socialist, a mentally ill sociopath projecting his insecurities onto a generation of young men, a cult leader, an atheist spreading misinformation about Christianity, a “Jewish stooge” and, according to one unnamed far right forest creature, a “wizard”.

Certainly he’s not without criticism. Still it’s hard to deny his work hasn’t been a boon to western civilization. By all rights, Peterson’s ideas are a wart on the face of modern life, evidence that the modern progressive status quo isn’t sustainable. Any world where Dr. Jordan Peterson can rise to fame with basic truism and life advice isn’t in a good place.

https://vimeo.com/357701314

Thus is the central contradiction explored in the new documentary The Rise of Jordan Peterson. The film, from first time director Patricia Marcoccia, follows the life behind the scenes of Dr. Peterson from 2016’s free speech protests until the moment his star rose and he began his international book tour for 12 Rules for Life.

While overall a mostly positive exploration of Dr. Peterson’s celebrity, the movie does offer a somewhat nuanced opinion on the professor. The movie is mostly about him, his internal life and thoughts and the reaction the world has had to his rise but it doesn’t shy away from some harsh points against him.

We meet friends of Dr. Peterson including supporters like Jonathan Pageau but we also get comprehensive interviews with critics of his both in and outside of his immediate circle. Most notable of these includes an extensive interview with one of the leaders of the transgender/non-binary protesters from the 2016 protests who is concerned his fame has created an atmosphere of open hostility towards government policies that protect trans people.

The only real problem with this is that it focuses the entire narrative around Peterson in a way that mostly marginalizes his critics. The movie does a good job giving his critics a chance to plainly speak their minds but the movie’s attention is so focused on him that it makes those critiques feel trivial at times. Still the portrait it paints isn’t designed to worship him.

Overall we see Dr. Peterson is a delicate, conflicted man whose ideas have been thrust onto the stage of history. He’s a man dealing with having been declared a savior. This realization sparks fears of both wanting to reject that title and egotistically feeling the need to embrace it.

Maybe the most interesting contradiction it captures is the way he expresses himself at home. He’s the kind of man who fears totalitarianism more than anything yet lines his home with Soviet Realist paintings to contemplate them.

As the old saying goes, he contains multitudes.

https://vimeo.com/357701314

It’s clear from the footage just how much celebrity has affected him physiologically. In his earliest interviews he talks extremely stiffly with an air of fear. Three years on you can tell that the effects of his fame have been quite prominent. He’s lost a lot of weight; likely from stress.

While it’s not addressed in the documentary, Dr. Peterson recently checked himself into rehab as a result of an addiction to clonazepam which he was prescribed after discovering his wife was gravely ill. I can only wish the best for him as he’s dealing with such horrific, serious personal and family problems.

The best takeaway from The Rise of Jordan Peterson one can take is that more than anything, he’s just a person. He’s not the savior of western civilization. He’s not a messiah figure. He’s also not some malicious globalist figure attempting to control the minds of the youth. He’s a man who’s unique psychology, position, intelligence and willingness to put his freedom on the line thrust him into prominence.

 
 
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