The 2001 animated film Osmosis Jones is a piece of body horror that rivals the work of David Cronenberg, as the audience watches the body of Frank (Bill Murray) slowly disintegrate from inside and out. It’s also a date movie.
To understand why it’s a date movie, I have to take you back to my freshman year of college, a hopeful yet dark time full of pink lemonade vodka and weekend mistakes. I had a crush on the boy from my 8 AM Astronomy class and when he invited me to his house party, I could barely contain my excitement. Yes, I tried to be cool but I can guarantee I was entirely too excited to play beer pong in a house full of boys and empty beer cans.
I showed up, looking cute, ready to flirt, but what did I see? The crush playing flip cup with another girl. Needless to say, I was devastated. As I dejectedly watched the game from the sidelines, the boy’s roommate sidled up next to me with a gift: A Four Loko, the drink of the devil. Of course I took it eagerly. We got to talking. I thought he was cute. The night was saved—or so I thought.
We went upstairs to “talk.” We sat on his bed. No, he did not try to kiss me. No, that would be too easy. Instead, this man—nay, this boy—turned on Netflix and asked, “Have you ever seen Osmosis Jones?”
I naively smiled, nodded and said I thought it was hilarious. He mistook my drunken flirting as approval to press play. I quickly realized I had made a mistake.
Osmosis Jones is a movie about bodies, and not in a sexy way. The film takes place in the body of Frank, a zookeeper who has essentially given up on taking care of his body. He eats junk food, doesn’t exercise and barely practices basic hygiene. His body is stereotypically repulsive and that’s compounded with lots of farting, burping and vomit as Murray performs his grotesque slapstick. His sickly body is meant to be a joke, a glaring example of what happens when you stop caring for yourself. We are meant to laugh at him as he vomits on people and has pimples pop into open mouths, glad we don’t look like him. But the viewer doesn’t just see what’s going on outside his body; the film takes them inside of Frank, too, to the city of Frank as the cells call it. The world of Frank’s guts is animated with bright colors and populated with anthropomorphic parameciums. Among them is Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock), a white blood cell/police officer trying to fix his broken reputation.
Let’s go back to that dorm room for a moment: I’m drunk. I’m a little sad. And I’m watching a movie that makes me all too aware of my own innards, which is the last thing I’d like to think about in a potentially romantic setting. Just minutes into the film, Bill Murray shoves an egg covered in dirt and chimp poop into his mouth. It was at this moment that the boy suddenly shoved his tongue into mine. Let me tell you, associating a first kiss with such a scene is a truly unique experience that I still carry with me to this day.
As Frank eats that egg and I begin to engage in the most awkward hook-up experience of my life, a deadly virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne) enters Frank’s body. With a single poke of Thrax’s long, sharp claw, cells begin to bubble and melt, with the cells screaming in pain as they explode. With only 48 hours, Jones and his new partner Drix (David Hyde Pierce), a cold pill, must work together to stop Thrax and save Frank’s life. But it won’t be easy and the film becomes a body horror crime drama where a single cell could change the course of a human’s life.
Body horror is typically about the human physique turning inside-out, as organs and viscera burst from mortal wounds. But Osmosis Jones subverts that expectation, as all of the horror is already taking place inside of the body. In turn, this suggests our bodies in a seemingly normal state are still sites of abject horror. Frank cannot feel that single exploding cell and has no idea it’s happening, and yet the audience is still shown that violence. That in itself is horrific if you think about it too hard: We are made up of millions of cells that work together to keep us healthy, but what happens when almost all of them fail? There is a happy ending to the film, which is meant to give us all hope about how our own cells function, but after spending 90 minutes inside of a man’s guts, it’s hard not to worry about your own.
But even just in terms of the gross-out factor, everything in this movie is liquid and squishy. As germs run through Frank’s mouth, their feet make squelching noises on his tongue. Osmosis Jones can easily change his form as he pulls and manipulates his body into a disguise. Bile is served at bars. Exclusive clubs are built inside of bacteria-filled zits. Things that would seem repulsive to us in real life are made normal in the city of Frank, which in turn should seem normal since it’s all happening in the human body. Osmosis Jones gives a new meaning to inside-out.
While Frank does ultimately survive Thrax’s infection, my relationship with that boy didn’t survive that night filled with animated pus and cans of Four Loko. After what felt like hours of mouths smashing into one another, I abruptly sat up and I said, “I have to go.” Why? I truly could not tell you. Without a single look back to the screen to see what I was missing, I ran across campus to my dorm and promptly laid awake, contemplating not only my life choices but what the city of Mary Beth that rumbled around inside of me was like. Osmosis Jones holds a weirdly special place in my heart: Not only is it a fascinating piece of child-friendly body horror disguised as slapstick comedy, but it is a strange marker of my awkward growth through adulthood. Just as Osmosis is stumbling his way through his life, I was stumbling my way—metaphorically—through what it meant to exist as my own person. Osmosis Jones will always be intrinsically linked to my college experience and strangely enough, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mary Beth McAndrews is a freelance film journalist with a love of all things horror. She’s written across the Internet about found footage, extreme horror cinema, and more. You can follow her on Twitter to read more of her work, as well as her hot takes about her favorite cryptid, Mothman.