The nature of humanity is to hide one’s true self from the world. It’s an inclination that has to be unlearned; to embrace what’s deep in your heart is to find salvation. What do you do then if your truth is eating other human beings? Bones and All, the latest from director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), poses that very peculiar question. Like Guadagnino, who’s dabbled in everything from romance to witchcraft horror, Bones and All defies easy categorization. It’s a swooning love story, a gory psychological chiller, and a refreshingly honest family drama all fighting for control. Eventually, all of its parts work together in beautiful concert, spawning a perfectly imperfect slice of cinema irresistible in its raw emotion.
Bones and All starts as your typical coming-of-age flick. High schooler Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) struggles under her overprotective father (André Holland), who locks her in her room every day after school. One night, she rebels, sneaking out the window over to a friend’s sleepover. It seems like she’s finally learning to love herself until… she bites her friend’s finger off. Amidst the wails of her friends, and with the assistance of her father, she flees her hometown, left to fend on her own in the heart of America. At a convenience store, she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a fellow “eater”, who helps her embark on a cross-country trip to discover her roots as they begin to fall deeply in love.
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Based on the novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All knows its dealing with taboo subject matter. A cannibal romance draws enough of a line in the sand to immediately turn off a good swath of the audience. Furthermore, the gory sequences of our lead couple tearing into flesh teeth-first out of a primal inclination will clear out the rest. Yet, just as lurid and harsh are the intimate close-ups of Maren and Lee, in anguish over finding their place in the world. Under the naturalistic eye of cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan’s purposefully shaky camerawork, the denial of one’s own nature stings as sharp as the indulgence, which in turn causes shame with its own distinct sting.
Nevertheless, it’s between those moments where, aided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s dreamy guitar-based score, Bones and All takes on a fairy tale quality, letting these two broken individuals complete each other.Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet conjure up a divine chemistry for the ages. Russell plays someone outwardly broken by the inner strength/hunger she feels cursed by, while Chalamet conveys the facade of a confident young man while his insecurity about his condition eats him up from each other. Together, they are each other’s comfort. Screenwriter David Kajganich instills his screenplay with a deep humanism missing from the extrapolation of his (otherwise excellent) Suspiria screenplay from 2018.
It’s catnip for actors playing a variety of outsiders; elder eater Sully (Mark Rylance) succumbing to his loneliness more than his hunger is the obvious highlight, turning what could’ve been a cartoony Stephen King villain into a pitiful pit of despair. Another major highlight is a scene-stealing Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green portrayal of two eaters who have fully succumbed to a life of gleeful sadism. And then there are the folks that are affected by Maren and Lee’s lifestyles; a murder’s row of talent from the aforementioned André Holland to Jessica Harper trying to make sense of their affliction. One thing remains the same: no one ever tries to accept them on their own terms. It’s all about fixing them.
Bones and All invites its audience to look at Maren and Lee and to accept them for who they are. To empathize with them as human beings, with wants, desires, and every feeling in between. Doing so is fully releasing yourself, getting lost in the magic of the human spirit and believing, if even for a moment, that connection can blossom in the most unlikely of places. It may not always last, but it has its own unique beauty. Luca Guadagnino dares you to understand the outsider. If you can unburden yourself from the cannibalistic nature of this tale, you’ll find yourself freed by its tenderness and honesty. Moreover, you’ll find yourself in the grasp of the most rewarding cinematic experiences of the year.
Bones and All receives its wide release November 23rd.