“These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder / Which, as they kiss, consume.” It’s been a while since a movie made Shakespeare’s work float around in my mind during a runtime. That being said, Bones & All has all the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy. Luca Guadagnino has truly done it again.
The cannibalistic romance film is a 2022 coming-of-age road trip tale directed by Guadagnino with a screenplay by David Kajganich. It’s based on Camille DeAngelis‘ 2015 Young Adult novel of the same name. Bones & All stars Taylor Russell as Maren and Timothée Chalamet as Lee. It also features performances by Mark Rylance – who truly steals the show with his limited screen time – Michael Stuhlbarg; André Holland; Chloë Sevigny; Jessica Harper; and David Gordon Green.
Bones & All is reminiscent of what I’ve come to know of Julia Ducournau’s filmography: the infamous Raw (2016) and the award-winning Titane (2021). However, Bones & All comes with many restraints. The film holds back not because it’s afraid of venturing into the gore that accompanies a story of this nature, but more because Guadagnino doesn’t focus on the story’s horrific aspects. Ultimately, Bones & All is a morality tale that touches on issues of loneliness and self-loathing. It attempts to humanize its characters instead of showcasing them as monsters.
But in the simplest of terms, this is also a film about people eating other people. Maren and Lee are cannibals, albeit ones grappling with a righteous dilemma. Maren’s cannibalism has cost her dearly in her short life. Her father abandons her, forcing our young heroine to go on a journey and find the mother who left her so long ago. Along the way, Maren realizes there are more people like her. The film does a great job setting up the rules of this world and the lore surrounding people with a cannibalistic appetite. And it does not break those rules. Instead, their reality quickly becomes believable – and vivid.
Bones & All also contains an underlying message that delves into a metaphor about the outcasts of society. Many of those affected by the carnal desire for human flesh also belong to the United States’ lower economic class. These are people who don’t meet the standard either financially or morally in the Reagan Era.
It’s through this metaphor that Bones & All dissects issues of abandonment, rejection, and how loneliness affects a person in society. The aphorism “No man is an island” seems to be especially true in this film, with its different forms of abandonment. Some forms don’t have consequences the way others do, and the film makes us feel for everyone who gets left behind.
While I did enjoy Bones & All‘s romantic angle, it would have benefited from simple chemistry between the main actors. Both Russell and Chalamet are phenomenal on their own ends, with Russell bearing the weight of the film’s greatness and Chalamet delivering one of the best performances of his career. However, there is a lack of genuine passion between their characters. Most of their relationship felt like it bloomed because of their difficult circumstances, not because these two actually feel a pull towards each other. Maren doesn’t want to be alone, and Lee is much less problematic company than Sully (Mark Rylance). That said, their often-detached chemistry does give way to a more silent dynamic. The pair’s time on screen is soft and tender – theirs is a romance that nests itself in your chest, one that feels friendly instead of all-consuming.
Beyond this, it’s easy to be enamored of Guadagnino’s singular and stylistic vision. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gift us a beautiful score, one blossoming in self-reflection and humanity. It accompanies beautiful and scenic landscapes as we follow our lead couple across the country. Bones & All is drenched in earth tones that make everything feel alive and naturalistic. This contributes to its characters’ behavior feeling less like an abnormality and more like a human response. Almost like a tic.
At length, Bones & All is a tragic tale encompassing our desire to feel wanted, desired, even needed. It’s an exploration of the human body, its sanctity, and its degradation. Guadagnino presents a fable about carnal desire – not so much in terms of sexuality, but in our hunger for genuine connection in an often sterile and cold world.
Bones & All had its world premiere at the 79th Venice International Film Festival. It is currently screening at the 60th New York Film Festival, and will have its wide theatrical release on November 23, 2022.