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Bones and All: A Tender Romance Between Two Cannibals

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Bones and All preview screening provided by Universal Pictures

Luca Guadagnino’s latest is one of the year’s strangest, but heartfelt films

If you struggle to connect with the characters in Luca Guadagnino’s latest teeth sinking, cannibalistic romance, don’t worry, you’re not alone (and that’s a probably a good sign). Bones and All (2022) is the sort of road trip romance that is reminiscent of Badlands (1973) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but its one added element is that almost everyone encountered in this film is a cannibal.

In lesser hands, Bones and All would probably lean more towards the grotesque and corny (think Twilight) which is not to say that there aren’t striking displays of cannibalistic behaviour in this film. Guadagnino goes beyond the flesh and right to the bone, ultimately extracting the marrow that lies within. The result is a tender display of two people trying to find their place in the world while dealing with an affliction they have no control over.

The two people in question are Maren (a breakout role and performance for Taylor Russell) and her eater-in-arms, Lee (Timothee Chalamet). While fairly different in terms of motivation —Maren wants to supress her impulse to feed on people whereas Lee is happy to accept this is who he is— both characters hail from similar circumstances: their first “eater” (their substitute for cannibal) experience was their babysitter, they’re both constantly on the move, and they’re both fairly estranged from their parents.

The film largely relies on Russell and Chalamet’s interplay. Both actors display a level of innocence and vulnerability that is in sync with the sort of tone Guadagnino is striving to create, but their elegance on-screen and evident comfort with each other is scintillating and really what makes the strangeness of it all appear anything but strange. It’s unsurprising that Chalamet digests the material so well, but in Russell, the director has found another gem. She matches Chalamet for screen presence if not for the very similarities she shares with his Call Me by Your Name (2017) performance, than definitely for her natural likeableness.

Taylor Russell as Maren in BONES AND ALL, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Taylor Russell as Maren in BONES AND ALL, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It helps that her character isn’t as consumed by this affliction as others in the film. Sully (a creepily funny Mark Rylance) is a more seasoned eater in that he can smell fellow eaters from blocks away and doesn’t actively look to kill people, but seeks those on the cusp of death. His early exchanges with Maren where they devour a dead elderly woman before “drying” together —some sort of deep, spiritual bonding that Sully hasn’t done with anyone else before— are some of the films most entertaining due to Rylance’s soft-spoken eeriness. Then there’s Jake (a Michael Stuhlbarg that looks like the hillbilly cannibal farmer from Red Dead Redemption 2) who Maren and Lee meet while planning to rest for the night; he goes a step further by confiding that he eats “bones and all”.

Even with some of the more horrific moments of cannibalism, Bones and All isn’t a horror by any stretch of the word. Guadagnino keeps the people-eating to a minimum with only a few graphic scenes, and instead focuses on the struggle of fitting in. In early stages of the film, Maren is abandoned by her father on her 18th birthday, and with only a pre-recorded cassette tape and birth certificate in hand, she goes out into the world to try and find her mother (who too, is an eater). Lee, by contrast, prefers a solitary life, until he meets Maren. The film’s best moments emerge from this struggle, with Maren and Lee’s bond growing stronger as a result of it.

Like most road films, Bones and All is about self-discovery and finding your place in the world. Along the road, some people click either romantically (Maren and Lee) while others don’t click at all (Maren and Sully), and Guadagnino’s strength is exploring the former while putting his own melodramatic twist on proceedings. While it might be difficult to relate to the circumstances of his characters this time around, there is an honesty and truth in how Guadagnino shoots his subjects that might just be enough to leave you full when all is said and eaten.

Bones and All opens nationally from the 24th of November, 2022.

Contributors

Arnel Duracak

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