Bones and All (2022)

Luca Guadagnino | 2hr 10min

Though marketed as a cannibal movie and drawing vampiric parallels to its characters’ secretive feeding habits, Bones and All invents its own term to describe these people driven by a strange, grotesque compulsion – ‘eaters’. Despite possessing an attuned sense of smell that lets them sniff each other out, they are lonely hunters, mainly keeping to themselves or occasionally pairing up with others of their kind. Abandoned by her father and believing her mother is dead, this is path that Maren takes when she meets fellow eater Lee. From there, both set out on a nomadic journey across the United States which tenderly transforms this horror-tinged premise into a coming-of-age tale, a sweet romance, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, a sensitive, queer allegory.

It is that final reading which may be the most fascinating aspect of Bones and All’s screenplay, underscoring its character dynamics with inferences of sexual exploration and self-loathing. This subtext is altogether missing from the novel it is based on, but it feels entirely appropriate to Guadagnino’s empathetic vision here, emphasising the transgressive nature of eaters in Reagan’s America where anything outside the conservative norm is considered not just taboo, but entirely evil. Other metaphors that have wrestled with similar subject matter might have nailed the sociological angle, but in drawing it back to cannibalism, Guadagnino creates something quite distinctive and possibly even controversial with its first-person perspective. We are inside Maren’s head every step of the way through Bones and All, fully empathising with her shame over what she and so many non-eaters perceive as an innate, psychological defect.

“We don’t have many options. Either you eat, you off yourself, or you lock yourself up.”

Guadagnino’s insight into young, queer relationships has been a persistent thread running through his filmography, and in a way Bones and All feels like a capstone to many of them. It is not as ambitious as Suspiria, but neither is it as heavily flawed, delivering its social commentary with a defter hand while maintaining the same visceral horror. Meanwhile, the unspoken understanding between young adults exploring their sexuality is reminiscent of Fraser and Caitlin’s friendship in We Are Who We Are, and it is hard not to see the connections to Call Me Be Your Name given Timothée Chalamet’s role in the 80s-set romantic drama. Bones and All still sits a few rungs below the latter as an artistic achievement, but it is certainly at least more consistent than his other efforts, thoroughly building an unhurried pace that sees Maren mature from a frightened, insecure teenager into a woman in harmony with her carnal cravings.

Integral to the lyrical tempo of Guadagnino’s storytelling is his inspired editing choices, bridging transitions from close-ups to landscapes with beautiful long dissolves, and occasionally zooming into points of focus with a rapid series of jump cuts. Every so often, he also inserts aggressively haunting montages which sit somewhere between dreams and flashbacks, revealing fragments of Maren and Lee’s deepest insecurities that are rooted in childhood traumas. In this way, he sets up their parents’ failures as primary influences on both, coming to a head in Chalamet’s tearful monologue recounting his father’s abuse, and even more prominently when Maren’s mother enters the story with a heartbreakingly disturbing cameo from Chloë Sevigny.

The eater culture which Maren and Lee encounter during their travels can’t quite be described as a community given broken up it is, but they do discover a certain commonality among them. Many of them remember their ‘first’ quite vividly, often a family member or babysitter they attacked as a child, and when the two lovers share these memories with each other, what once was a point of shame brings them closer together. Suddenly, Maren doesn’t feel like such an outcast for her curious cravings, and it is with this compassionate understanding that these friends navigate unfamiliar territory together, both literally and metaphorically. As they sit in a barn contemplating the cows below them destined to become meat, Guadagnino gently tracks his camera towards them in a long take, and as they finally kiss and seal their romance, he brings it to a rest on their faces, smiling brighter than ever.

It is a relationship that many other eaters can only dream of, and with the unsettling presence of the homeless, wandering Sully persisting throughout the film, we are constantly reminded of how such soul-crushing loneliness can damage the minds of society’s outsiders. Mark Rylance’s soft, drawling accent, bizarre fashion sense, and third person speech projects an awkward figure, but being an older man whose contact with other humans has been severely limited, he also carries a great deal of sadness. Though his appearances throughout Bones and All are sparse, each of them leaves an eerie mark on Maren’s journey as a reminder of the miserable loneliness that comes with this life – almost in direct opposition to the great joy and freedom that Lee conversely embodies.

Like Bonnie and Clyde or Badlands’ Kit and Holly, Maren and Lee effectively build new, self-made lives for themselves on the road, though in contrast to those other young, criminal lovers, the threat of being caught by authorities does not feel significant. Rather than running from danger, they introspectively seek a reconciliation between their consciences and cravings, offering their stories and bodies to each other as sources of great comfort. Only by seeing their identities reflected in the outside world can they make any real connection with it, but in Guadagnino’s morbidly nuanced characterisations, we can see how building rich relationships with others equally lets them finally embrace themselves.

Bones and All is currently playing in theatres.

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