‘Bones and All,’ a swoony ode to young love–and to eating people
Bones and All, a swoony ode to eating human flesh, hitting theaters right before Thanksgiving? Delicious. Not since Silence of the Lambs came out on Valentine’s Day has a top-shelf horror movie come out in time for such a perversely perfect holiday. It’s on the nose in all the right ways for this majestically seedy, deeply creepy and altogether beautiful love story about an ever-consuming hunger.
Based on Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 YA novel, Luca Guadagnino’s grand guignol tale of amour fou is also the Italian filmmaker’s first American-set movie, and even plays as a travelogue through the poverty-ravaged fringes of the United States during the summer of 1988. Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota—it’s a dark-hearted tour of a Reagan-era heartland.
BONES AND ALL ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Starring: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper
Running time: 130 min
That sociopolitical commentary is a perfect penumbra for Guadagnino’s deeper exploration of outsiderism and alienation: desire interlaced with shame, plus a survivalist defiance against normative behavior. “Whatever you and I got, it’s gotta be fed,” says world-weary flesh-eater Sully (Mark Rylance, delivering his patented high-voiced oddball shtick). It’s the universal conundrum of taboos: how to fulfill a “to thine own self be true” ethos in a society that not only rejects, but recoils at those urges. There’s no choice but to hide in the shadows and feast discreetly.
The film’s two fine young cannibals are star-crossed lovers with dead-end options: 18-year-old Maren (Taylor Russell, wide-eyed but earthy) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet, in full gender-fluid heartthrob mode). Maren is only just starting to realize what she really is, after another impulse snack attack—this one involving the index finger of a high school classmate—forces her to flee on the next Greyhound bus. Her haunted and conflicted father Frank (André Holland) abandons her but leaves an audiocassette that explains her past—dating back to the babysitter she killed at age three, the mother she never knew, and many other episodes that kept upending her life. “You were born this way,” says her father in a loving, bereaved voice full of acceptance and regret.
Sully is the first to discover the homeless Maren. He smells her from a distance—these cannibals recognize the scent of their own kind—and knows immediately that she’s an eater. As an older man, Sully is self-evident proof that longevity with this condition is possible. He has rules, too: “Never, never, never eat an eater,” he says with a toothpick in his teeth. Riiight. He offers a semblance of how to move forward, how to navigate this lifestyle with a tempered appetite. But he also embodies the deep loneliness that comes with that balance.
Maren senses his desperation, and bolts before he can protest. No matter: he doesn’t forget her. He’ll pop up again. He’ll just follow his nose.
In the meantime, Maren becomes more attuned to other eaters—principally Lee, whom she approaches after he, bloodfaced, leaves the scene of an illicit feeding. Lee is poker-faced and untroubled by the body count he leaves behind. He’s also a pro at finding his victims, even seducing a carnival barker with the nonplussed confidence of someone ordering at a drive-thru.
Lee takes Maren under his wing; he comforts her, she gives him a sense of community. They even meet each other’s family, in ways both poignant and startling. They start to fall for each other. But are they really fated for happiness?
Like the best romances, Bones and All is a story about two doomed souls. Their happiness is an impossibility, but together they find moments of bliss. “Am I bad?” they confess to each other. Guadagnino’s great strength as a storyteller is his boundless empathy for the excluded, and his yearning for them to find respite and communion. There are moments in Bones and All which are thrillingly unsettling—an episode with white-trash besties Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green is a veritable dramatic death rattle. But there are moments of grace and kindness, and even peace for their troubled minds, among all the chaos and decay.