Caution: Content reveals some potential spoilers from Bones and All.
Bones and All is an absurd mash up of many familiar genres including the period piece, coming of age, romance, and road trip movies. The result is a film which asks us how we connect as sinful and messed up people. The film begins with Maren (Taylor Russell) a girl who just seems to be a new student adapting to a fresh environment. The film plays with this idea of fighting with normalcy in its opening shots and scenes, showing us an ordinary high school with ordinary girls including Maron planning to sneak out to sleep over. It is during this sleepover that Maron in close proximity with the girls seems to be breaking into the group as an outsider.
As she speaks from underneath a table, we watch Maron nudging towards the girl she’s talking with, hinting that perhaps there’s a greater intimacy happening than we thought. But then Maron bites her, and director Luca Guadagnino reveals what is likely given away from the title, Maren is a cannibal. Interestingly the label of “cannibal” is never spoken out loud through the movie’s runtime, a choice that projects our personal sense of otherness onto the morbid nature of Guadaginino’s characters. The film unveils the humanity underneath the characters need to feed, provoking us to reflect on how people love one another despite their faults.
The story really kicks off when in the light of Maron biting her classmate, her father Francis (Andre Holland) has them move to the next town. Shortly after their arrival Maron turns eighteen and Francis decides she should learn how to deal with who she is on her own. She decides to go to Minnesota to try and find her mom whom she never met. On her travels she ends up finding out she is not the only one cursed with the affliction to feast on human flesh when she runs into Sully (Mark Rylance) a creepy older eclectically dressed man you wouldn’t approach on the street. Sully teaches Maron that there are others with their niche taste and that they can learn to smell them. This allows Maron to find Lee (Timothee Chalamet) a drifting flesh eater who reveals himself to her by taking down and eating a man we see harassing a woman in a store. He invites Maron to join him as he drives off with the truck which belonged to the man. The rest of the film follows them as they travel, explore the Mid-west and feast together. The problem being their feasting together involves killing, a reality of her appetite Maron never had to deal with before.
The film never takes its subject too seriously as making a cold, serious film about empathizing with cannibals would be a hard pill to swallow but a comedy is completely nonsensical. Its more lighthearted tone does switch all the time as we’re thrown from scenes where it’s easy to empathize with connection Lee and Maron are making back to gruesome scenes at the gore of their compulsion to kill and eat. Still, we can root for them because we’re forced to see there’s no easy solution. As Lee puts in about halfway through the film “You either off yourself, feed or put yourself in one of those places”. One of those places becomes the completely isolating and hostile environment of a mental institution.
To Maron, her journey has always been one to find connection. This is natural after she loses the only one, she could rely on in her father. She interacts with the creepy character of Sully at first because it’s clear she wants to reach out and form a bond with someone. So, when Lee comes along and shares her unique trait it seems natural for them to be together. Then over the course of indulging in their temptations together the film sees them start to crave their shared love more than their need to feed. Part of that is Maron teaching Lee compassion. She knows the damage of losing loved ones. So, when she and Lee end up killing sisters, husbands, and dads she doesn’t know how to deal with it. Through Maron’s love for him he learns how to connect and open up to his own family and eventually desires for them to live as normal people.
The film highlights how turning towards love can help to steer us from our darkness needs. We don’t feel the need to feast on human flesh, but I think we all can connect with having a desire that hurts others. Drug addiction, pornography, gossip, greed, and faults like it are all compulsions we can clearly empathize with because they exist within us. Still there are people who love us despite or even because of our faults. They embrace who we are even as our flaws become achingly clear. The ending of the film highlights the beauty of this love and connection but also traces how those faults come to haunt us.
The film excels at communicating these ideas in its filmmaking with Guadagnino showing he knows how to convey a character’s psychology through strong directional choices. The music does a great job balancing the films in many tones. Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross continue to impress by combining the beauty of acoustic guitar and synth to highlight the beauty of the mid-west and the warmth of Lee and Maron’s relationship as well as utilizing haunting piano chords invocative of Thom Yorke’s blood curdling work on Guadagnino’s Susperia. These feelings are also wonderfully captured by cinematographer Arseni Khachaturian, a name I hope to see on more film credits be it Guadagnino’s new movie or otherwise because it is beautiful. He captures the naturalism of his settings so well while allowing the natural darkness of the scene to remain prominent and loom over the haunting actions the character takes in the film.
The “players” (as they are called in the films credits) bolsters one of the strongest ensembles of the year with each actor giving great performances. Taylor Russell is phenomenal as Maron bringing the innocence of a high schooler into this crazy and violent world so well while not forsaking the intimate emotions. I’ve been waiting for her to get another great leading role since her go at leading half a movie in Waves. Here she gets to eat up most of the screentime and her acting ensures we never look away. Timothee Chalamet continues to prove his screen presence is unlike any other fitting this confident young loner to a tee. The supporting characters are great too with Chloe Sevigny and Andre Holland fitting their short-lived characters perfectly. The ones who really get to shine though despite their limited screen time are Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg gets to play a completely unhinged hick cannibal who only takes one scene to leave an impression of a man you would dread to see in your dreams. Rylance though puts you on edge for the entirety of his screentime playing the old wise master of cannibalism. His every move and motion seems to be the most unsettling and inhuman choice you could think of. His naturally quiet and innocent demeanor and voice end up creeping up on you and drill into your mind in his brief bursts of harrowing violence.
Bones and All is a film that shows how much auteurs like Guadagnino can be trusted as they can take bizarre scripts and shoot them in a way where the viewer will have radical new experience. In doing so, Guadagnino makes some choices that will certainly alienate some including myself but it’s so fascinating to watch interestingly developed characters fall in love when you have their biting character contradictions which constantly carry the story of the film forward even in its slower moments. Creating such a clear character contraction helps to reveal what makes us basically human and reveals how love can overcome our shameful cravings. Accepting these murderous characters should lead us to accept ourselves and each other no matter what may separate us, that is true love.
Bones and All is now playing in theatres.