There is a reason why everyone is obsessed with real-life dramas now. You see this probably more on TikTok. Twitter is obsessed with Trump and the world of MAGA Republicans that they know nothing about. They have necessary villains and scapegoats to keep their social media feeds lively. But in lieu of any political obsessions, the American public has trained its eye to their version of the kind of drama we just don’t get from movies, television or even comedy in the mainstream anymore. Why, because everyone is just too afraid.
Real life can just be real life. We often turn to the world of fiction, or an artist’s interpretation of our lives for vicarious thrills. We are still the same culture we were prior to the last few years, and especially pre-2020 America. Our demographics haven’t changed all that much. What would have made money before Hollywood became mostly hindered by fear, would still make money now if Hollywood decided to return to what they know makes money. There’s a reason Top Gun Maverick made $700 million and Lightyear stalled at $118.
What we see with the Johnny Depp trial, even the Kardashians, or now, with the Olivia Wilde vs. Florence Pugh drama is a culture hungry for scandal, gossip and very beautiful people struggling through all of it. We love to look at the pretty people, the rich people, but especially when they’re facing some kind of trouble. It probably isn’t a coincidence that back in the 1950s, there was a similar obsession with, say, Elizabeth Taylor’s private life.
There has always been an appetite for gossip, no doubt. Just look at how we obsessed on Princess Diana and the Royal Family for years and how that obsession spread to people like Fergie and now, Meghan Markel. It serves some kind of primal need for drama. If we aren’t getting it from movies and television, we’re going to turn to real life. And turn to real life we have.
What is more exciting than watching the Olivia Wilde/Florence Pugh drama play out? Certainly nothing anyone saw at the Telluride Film Festival, nor will likely see in Toronto or New York. Why, because everyone is playing it way too safe. Why, because they are afraid of Twitter. Now, every movie, with very few exceptions, must be about the good puritans or the very bad thought criminals that offend the good puritans – racists, sexists, misogynists, rapists, homophobes. YAWN.
Watching Luca Guadagnino’s “cannibals in love” movie Bones & All that played at Telluride was thrilling. Guadagnino did not pull any punches with his depiction of flesh-eating wanderers played by the captivating Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet. From the first minute she crunches off a finger, on through the bloody bathtub scene where she rips an organ out of someone’s gut and devours it, we saw something we’ve never seen before.
I haven’t seen Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling yet. I want to see it, if only because I hear she makes some bold moves in the thing, even if it does still probably live on the Planet of Puritans, at least in terms of its ideology (women good, men bad). But I don’t want to pre-judge it. I am excited to see it. I am also somewhat intrigued by Wilde’s real-life drama since she left her partner to run off with Styles. I have been intrigued by things Wilde has said to the press over the years, and most recently, loved her comments in Venice, “the internet feeds itself.”
She’s beautiful, he’s beautiful, poor Jason Sudeikis was bereft and embittered enough to serve her custody papers while she was promoting her movie. TikTok gives us brief glimpses into her luscious affair with Styles — he’s onstage in some gender-bending outfit, she’s offstage dancing like the spirit caught her. My god, the sex, can you even imagine? It had to be good to dump poor hubby and reach for Harry. Listen, friends, you can live a whole lifetime and maybe have that experience once, if you’re lucky.
I loved the cannibals movie too. I loved the audacity of it. It was the one movie I could not stop thinking about, even if it made me feel a little nauseous, a natural reaction to cannibalism. Guadagnino has such an eye for beauty, as cannibals have for vulnerable victims. He has a way of depicting true love that makes you swoon with every shot. These poor cannibals can’t help it that they were born with a taste for flesh. What are they going to do to survive? They must hover on the fringes and wait.
They know they can’t live in this world the way they are. So what are they then to do? They have to find dying people. They have to hope to run into someone who deserves to be killed. They desperately want out. All we want is for these kids so gorgeously portrayed by Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell to be in love forever and never have to worry about their next victim, and cleaning up all that blood. Guadagnino doesn’t bother with the particulars, like whether police officers might suspect something is wrong when bodies keep turning up with human teeth marks in them.
Cannibals are part of our culture, since there have been real life ones like Jeffrey Dahmer, Nikolai Dzhumagaliev, and Ed Gein, and fictional ones like Hannibal Lecter. Some of us, not saying who, have been mildly obsessed with the tragic story of the Donner party that had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.
In our need to devour people like Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh perhaps we’re metaphoric cannibals too. We’re not eating flesh but we’re consuming lives all the same. We do it because we too can’t help it. We desire the lives of human drama to consume. If Hollywood won’t give it to us with movies and TV we’ll turn to real life.
I’m not shaming people for this obsession. I myself can’t even stop looking at Wilde and Styles — they’re so utterly beautiful. That they try to hide so much from the press only makes them more captivating. We look because we can’t not look. Nothing in film right now, with the exception of Bones & All, can possibly hope to compete with the real life dramas that don’t have as many Twitter scolds ordering them to do this or that. Real life is just… real life.
So we have our icons like Amber Heard and Olivia Wilde because that kind of icon no longer exists in movies. Movies have to be cast CORRECTLY with the right number of underrepresented people. Each time we see one of these overt manipulations it takes us right out of the story. We know that the filmmakers are playing it safe because they have a gun to their heads. They know the ever-watchful panopticon of Twitter will point their fingers and screech about perceived thought-crimes.
But it takes us out of the story because as humans we have a nose for authenticity like cannibals have a nose for human flesh. We can see something that feels contrived. Thus, movies have less value for us. It’s like trying to watch Saturday Night Live now. We know they will never cross the line anymore, that it will be like skit night at the Scientology Center where there are way too many unsafe targets so nothing will be funny. The only safe targets are Trump supporters, which is punching down. The most powerful people dehumanizing and mocking the least powerful is never funny.
They pretend it is, but it isn’t.
With nowhere to turn, the public dives into real-life dramas that will never be micromanaged by intimacy coordinators or DEI activists. They just happen because, well, because we’re all flawed, imperfect, sometimes ridiculous creatures undone by our own bad choices.
Even if Harry Styles didn’t really spit on Chris Pine, it was still fun to imagine that he did. I saw some Zapruder-like footage on TikTok to prove it never happened, or to prove it did happen, and there’s Chris Pine sitting between Wilde and Styles, awkward as can be, the eyes of the world upon him.
And lest we forget, there’s poor Shia LaBeouf dragged into the middle of it with some complicated story of him backing out of the film, Wilde’s version vs. his own, and Florence Pugh’s text messages. LaBeouf is trying to piece his life back together now after a long battle with his own demons. The Twitter scolds who keep defending Amber Heard are mad that LaBeouf would dare even try to have a career. TikTok, however, is on both Depp and LaBeouf’s side, mostly. Who can keep up with all of it?
I don’t judge people too harshly now for turning to real life. I keep hoping Hollywood will relax a little and get back to doing what they do best. I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. They are simply too afraid of losing everything should one accusation erupt on Twitter. And so it goes.