Did Harry Styles really spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival? For 24 hours, thousands of fans were asking this very question on social media, but now there is an official answer. In a statement released by Pine’s representative, the conjecture has been dismissed as “a ridiculous story – a complete fabrication and the result of an odd online illusion that is clearly deceiving and allows for foolish speculation. Just to be clear, Harry Styles did not spit on Chris Pine. There is nothing but respect between these two men and any suggestion otherwise is a blatant attempt to create drama that simply does not exist.”
Meanwhile, Harry Styles cracked a joke about it at his Wednesday concert in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, where he told fans that it was great to be back in the Big Apple and that “I just popped very quickly to Venice to spit on Chris Pine.”
So why has this story, or rather non-story, monopolized the internet in recent hours?
The entire “illusion” can be put down to a video clip. At the screening of the highly anticipated thriller from director Olivia Wilde, Don’t Worry Darling, Styles is seen approaching Pine in the movie theater to take a seat. As Styles goes to settle into his chair, there is a subtle, almost imperceptible, movement of his mouth. However, it is not Harry’s gesture that comes across as unusual, but Pine’s reaction to it. Pine looks down at his lap, stops clapping, shakes his head and smiles resignedly. The video is sufficiently ambiguous and the quality poor enough to leave room for speculation. Did Styles spit on him? Is it an inside joke or a hostile gesture? Like Will Smith’s slap at the Oscar’s in March, the spit has become the talk of the town.
“I don’t think anyone saw the spit at the screening,” says Tommaso Koch, EL PAÍS’ correspondent at the festival. Koch says he sensed some tension at the event, but no such incident was called out by anyone attending the premiere. In fact, he didn’t become aware of the alleged incident until the following day on social media. In the original video, which has nearly 1.5 million views as well as hundreds of replicas on YouTube and social networks, there is room for speculation. But other shots of the scene taken from different angles are clear enough.
In one such video, posted by the deputy editor of Variety magazine, the actors were seen chatting in a friendly manner seconds after Styles was meant to have spat. In another, the co-stars were seen smiling and joking. But still, the hashtag #spitgate remained among the most commented on Twitter. So, why do people persist in commenting on an incident that has already been, to all extents and purposes, disproved?
In his book, The Science of Storytelling, journalist Will Storr points out the importance of causality for a story to succeed and go viral. “The brain can’t help but make cause-and-effect connections. It does it automatically,” he argues. Storr proposes an experiment to prove his theory, using two words: bananas, vomit. “Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes what just happened in our brain, which outlines a script in which bananas caused the discomfort,” he says. “The brain establishes cause-and-effect connections, even when they don’t exist.”
Cause-and-effect scenarios excite curiosity. And that’s the case with the Styles and Pine video clip, where there is an effect, but an absence of cause. The viewer tends to fill in that gap. They imagine Styles spitting at his colleague because it fits perfectly not only with Pine’s reaction, but also with the on- and off-set wrangles that have made headlines since the shooting of Don’t Worry Darling began.
Don’t Worry Darling has become one of the most talked-about films this season with much of the gossip fueled by the alleged confrontation between director Olivia Wilde and lead actress Florence Pugh, who announced she will not be participating in the movie’s promotion; during its presentation in Venice, she skipped the press junket and only attended the red carpet event.
Wilde is also said to have clashed with actor Shia LaBeouf, whom she allegedly fired from the project, though LaBeouf contests this version of events.
Wilde told Variety that the reasons LaBeouf was no longer on set were related to his behavior. LaBeouf then published an open letter to give his side of the story. “You and I both know the reasons for my exit. I quit your film because your actors and I couldn’t find time to rehearse,” it read. He also shared a video clip in which Wilde can be heard encouraging LaBeouf and Pugh to “make peace.” She did not refer to the actress as Pugh but as “Miss Flo,” a nickname she used in an ironic and somewhat inflammatory tone.
Finally, Harry Styles replaced LaBeouf. Then, weeks after the former One Direction singer joined the cast, the director announced the end of her nine-year relationship with actor Jason Sudeikis. A few months later she was photographed with Styles, leading to speculation they may be in a relationship.
As none of the backstage drama has been proven, the Venice Film Festival has presented observers with the perfect opportunity to analyze the cast dynamic.
With images swiftly uploaded online, it has been noted that Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh sat four seats away from each other, too far to look each other in the face during the three or four minutes of applause when the credits went up. Again, a video went viral of how eye contact was avoided, though a second video taken from a different angle, discredited this story.
little miss olivia said “scheduling conflicts” and here flo is pic.twitter.com/G87NYcijvB— mads 📡 (@tobesofreaks) September 5, 2022
Also striking was Pine’s absent attitude during the meeting with the press as Styles explained why he likes the movie; and then there was the video posted by Florence Pugh’s stylist, which showed the actress toasting the film with a Spritz while her colleagues explained away her absence at the news conference by citing scheduling problems.
Acknowledging the furore, Olivia Wilde had this to say: “As for all the endless tabloid gossip and all the noise out there – I mean, the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute. I think it’s sufficiently well nourished.”