Romance and horror aren’t frequently paired together as harmoniously as they are in Luca Guadagnino’s new film Bones and All. The film balances horrific elements that are graphic & disgusting– truly, truly disgusting– with tender elements of romance and coming-of-age narratives in a highly original cohesion.
Based on the novel by Camille De Angelas and the adapted screenplay by David Kajganich, the film centers around the story of Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell), an eighteen-year-old with a complicated past who finds herself trying to navigate a gruesome facet of herself– her cannibalism. Recently deserted by her father, Maren embarks on a journey to find the mother she never met. Along the way, she meets pickup-driving, pink-mullet-rocking Lee (Timothee Chalamet), a fellow cannibal with more experience than she, and the two of them quickly develop feelings for one another as their gruesome romance unravels.
Guadagnino has a distinctly dreamy and warm flare in his directing, most clear in the famous Call Me By Your Name which also features Chalamet, and elements of this distinct style peak through in Bones and All despite its inherent gore.
There is liberal use of idyllic, pastel-colored scenes from the midwestern United States landscape in which the characters are journeying through, and these continuously serve to contrast the bloody, graphic shots of human-eating-human. Even within the horror scenes, the high quality cinematography creates a noir-like feel, especially in some of the night scenes. Much of the movie is anchored by a melodic acoustic guitar that contrasts much of the film’s content, but nonetheless serves as a reminder of the more human elements of its characters.
Unsurprisingly, Chalamet delivers a poignant performance in a role unlike anything he has attempted before. Delicate and effortless, he brings a nuanced and humble element to the tangled character. For Russell, this is her first major performance in a lead role, and she carries the muted, reserved character extremely well, leaning into a more subtle performance. The two of them together evoke something beautiful.
Mark Rylance, who plays the eerie and unsettling Sully, steals the show in every scene he’s in; his higher-pitched, stuttery voice, hollow gaze, and unnerving demure create an undercurrent of tension in the limited scenes he is in. Michael Stuhlbarg has a one-scene cameo in the film as another “eater” that is able to “sniff out” the couple on their journey, and he, too, delivers an entirely unnerving performance. Though they have more peripheral roles in the film, Rylance and Stulbarg offer memorable snapshots.
Early in the film, the tone is set for there to be no shying away from the gore of cannibalism. The shots of “feeding” are extended, with graphic visual and aural qualities that feel animalistic and savage. When Maren and Lee encounter some other “eaters” on the road, the two learn about their horrifying practices in order to sustain their hunger. Similarly, the ritualistic, routine practice by the eater Sully (Mark Rylance) is quite disturbing. Because these elements have such a strong presence, it can certainly– and rightfully– be challenging for some audience members to get past the gore of the movie.
In the moments where the gore is able to take a backseat, however, the tenderness of two young lovers finding comfort in one another takes over powerfully. Like any human being, the two main characters struggle with the parts of themselves that they are more ashamed of, and they are able to find solace with one another in that shared sense of shame. The film essentially uses cannibalism to open up a narrative about how human beings carry vulnerable parts of themselves and how such carrying affects their external relationships. Because the characters within the romance are so young, coming-of-age themes of identity and self-acceptance are especially salient.
While the gruesome nature of a movie about cannibals may not be tolerable for everyone, Bones and All is a highly original and beautiful film. The movie is playing in theaters now, and students can catch a screening of it nearby at Coolidge Corner Theater with its new student discount.