Film Review: Bones and All
Bones and All
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Frenesy Film Company and Per Capita Productions
In Theaters: 11.23
This week is a time for gathering together, feasting decadently and retreating into deep denial about what it all represents. As such, it’s fair to say that Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal love story, Bones and All, is the perfect film for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bones and All takes place in the early ’80s and introduces us to Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell, Escape Room), an 18-year-old girl who harbors a secret: She has an insatiable craving for human flesh. After a shocking incident at a slumber party, Maren’s father, Frank (André Holland, Moonlight, High Flying Bird), tells her to grab all of her essentials: They’re getting the hell out of Dodge. Maren awakens in a motel to find that her father is gone, leaving some money and an audio cassette explaining that he can’t protect her anymore and that they need to go their separate ways.
Rudderless, Maren sets out to find her mother she has never known. Along the way, she meets others like her, including Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a sensitive and streetwise young man with whom she quickly falls head over heels in love. Together they embark on a cross-country odyssey of first love and self-discovery, stopping occasionally for a bite to eat along the way.
Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) is an extraordinary talent with a gift for painting gorgeous pictures of characters who feel starkly real and engaging. Bones and All is no exception. It’s hard not to form an attachment to Maren and Lee, and I felt a sense of sympathy akin to rooting for them. Therein lies the problem: young lovers who find comfort and a sense of home in each other because they can’t be with anyone else is an easy idea to get behind. When they slit a man’s throat and start chowing down on his raw, freshly dead corpse in a cornfield outside a carnival, it’s more difficult—or at least it should be. In many ways, Bones and All feels like Twilight mixed with Natural Born Killers, though it’s far more nuanced, artful and watchable than either of those films.
It’s also undeniable that Bones and All is romanticizing something that has no business being romanticized. The graphic sequences of cannibalism, or even the notion that such glorification may encourage such things, are not a major concern to me. Posers with unhealthy fixations aside, I just don’t see young people walking out of this film and deciding, “Yeah, I I’m going to start eating old ladies.” It’s likely that Guadagnino, adapting from the novel by Camille DeAngelis, isn’t really making a movie about cannibalism at all and that it’s purely metaphorical. The question of what the metaphor is alluding to is left up to the viewer’s interpretation.
The acting is pitch-perfect, with Chalamet once again reminding us that he’s the real deal and worthy of all the hype. Russell gives the strongest performance of her career thus far, and Mark Rylance is chilling as Sully, a drifter who tries to mentor Maren on the ways of an “Eater.” Guadagnino seems incapable of directing actors toward anything less than honest, soul-baring reality, and that makes his films a treat for anyone with a love of the craft. Maren and Lee never turn into showy, “Look at me, I’m acting!” performances, and the chemistry between the two young actors is considerable. Holland is one of my favorite underrated actors, and the presence of his voice on Maren’s tape is a powerful and emotional presence throughout the film.
Bones and All is riveting, and there’s so much artistry on display that I’ll likely end up seeing it again. Still, I’m uncomfortable with the romanticizing of such a gruesome subject. The question of what, if anything, Guadagnino is trying to say has too many unsettling implications for me to give an unwavering recommendation, though it’s certainly one of the most involving and expertly made films of the year. –Patrick Gibbs