Bones and All is a deeply humanistic story of impossible love as two drifters search for their idea of home.
*This review contains minor spoilers.*
Following his sun-soaked Italian love story, Call Me By Your Name, Bones and All shares the same Guadagino DNA of being a deeply humanistic film about young romance but takes place in a very opposite world. The filmmaker decided the tackle the most American trope for his inaugural American-set film: the road trip. Guadagnino continues his streak of films centered on societal outcasts by adapting Camille DeAngelis’s novel Bones and All for the big screen. Pulling from the novel’s pages, he creates a dark love story of two disenfranchised American young adults who share an appetite for human flesh. Their unconventional diet casts them outside of society and sends them on the run to find somewhere they can belong.
In 1980’s America, young Maren (Taylor Russell) lives with the secret that keeps her family always on the run. When she finally reaches 18, her father, who can’t stand by what she does, decides to leave her on her own. Maren embarks on a solo journey to find her mother, but along the way she discovers there are others just like her. These others consist of Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a fellow eater, who helps her survive and sees her for more than just her overpowering appetite.
Although having two main characters who happen to be cannibals in a world where they exist amongst the population, Guadagnino doesn’t box his film in the horror genre. Writer David Kajganich, a frequent Luca collaborator, crafts the characters as drifters who live with an inevitable fate and never lets their cravings overshadow their identities. Guadagnino never vilifies his main characters, but instead wants them to be loved and not judged by audiences. Maren and Lee are supposed to be cinematic reflections of humanity and show what can bring humans together and what can divide them. The film never goes to a place of cynicism and remains truthful to the characters’ emotions. Their runaway story turns into a liberation odyssey towards self-discovery for two young people learning their identities and finding beauty in a world that shuns them.
The film has taken on a reputation for being the “Timothée Chalamet cannibal film,” but it is really a story about self-discovery. Luca does not use their eating habits to be provocative or shocking but approaches it as fact of the lives they live. It is a need of theirs to survive, almost like breathing. It also brings great shame and fear to them, as they come to terms with the damage humans are capable of causing. Every time they feed out of necessity it ends with feelings of regret after their craving is satisfied. It adds realism to a concept that seems so outlandish. Luca wants the audience to believe that these people could actually exist without it feeling like a fantasy film.
Taking a closer look at Maren, Kajanich focuses on her internal struggle of finding her power and owning her sense of self. She has a very unrelatable condition, but she is written as any other girl her age who is experiencing the anxieties of loving and accepting yourself. She never accepts her fate, always looking to do what she can to not hurt those around her. Russell plays Maren as someone who wants to escape the judgement while experiencing love and freedom for the first time. Drawing on the fact that she is still a teen, everything she experiences is intense and deep. She never sees her diet as “other” but as a truth her character must make the best of in order to survive. Taylor Russell brings her own shyness into her character that eventually evolves into courage as she starts to take control of her life. She is someone who can’t get close (physically or emotionally) to others because she can’t resist devouring them, bones and all.
Lee has a different way of dealing with their condition; he builds a wall around himself from his dyed pink hair to the way he dresses. The wall comes down once he and Maren meet up, and his biggest vulnerability is exposed beneath the cracks: he feels alone. The traits of himself he has put away are fully back out when Maren is around. She introduces a moral compass into his life that has been missing which causes him to have to face the consequences of his past actions. When Chalamet puts away the cool drifter performance and transforms into a vulnerable outsider, he really starts to shine. Like Maren, it is the first time he is experiencing love and while it opens him up, it also scares him.
At the film’s core, it is a love story about finding acceptance. Throughout the story, Maren and Lee not only explore the love they have for each other but are looking to create a space for them. Maren simply stating “let’s just be people” is their awareness of their limits to live normally, but willingness to test out those limits and enjoy themselves in the moment for once. In comparison, Mark Rylance’s Sully is an eater who has been in isolation for his entire life. Whatever moral compass he once possessed has been stripped away. Maren and Lee are still young enough to have a chance to attempt a normal life and because they have each other they can continue to accept and challenge one another.
From the melancholic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, shots of the bloodied sky, and riveting performances, Guadagnino creates a complex portrait of lost lovers that perfectly balances the horror and beauty of humanity.
Likely: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score
Should be Considered: Lead Actress (Taylor Russell), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)
Release Date: November 18, 2023
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Lives in LA
Favorite Director: David Fincher