Some people are born with a life they did not ask for. Traits that their parents have passed down can define the way they live their lives, even though everything in them wants to escape the burdens of their ancestry and blend in with normal people. How does one create meaning in this lonely existence? The characters in BONES AND ALL are all meandering on the edges of society trying to answer this question, all while trying to contain their urges to consume human flesh. Acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino’s new movie is a disturbing road trip across America that depicts the dark urges of “eaters,” as they are called in the film, and explores the horrific ethical and mental struggles that come with having to feast on fellow human beings. However, this film is also a tender romance (no pun intended) that focuses on how the love and understanding of another person can help someone see themselves and find a true purpose.
Essentially, Guadagnino combines the influences of his previous two films: Suspiria and Call Me By Your Name. BONES AND ALL somehow manages to take a story about cannibalism with plenty of violence and turn it into one of the most touching and loving films of 2022. The film begins by introducing Maren (Taylor Russell), a seemingly normal teenage girl who is struggling to make friends at her school. She finally connects with a girl who invites her to a get-together at her house, but the event ends in disaster when Maren’s urges get the better of her. This is a common occurrence for Maren and her father, who have to move around the country every time she gets hungry. However, Maren’s father finally abandons her after not being able to defend or handle his daughter’s appetites, and leaves her money to live on her own and a tape explaining his decision.
From the first moments of BONES AND ALL, Guadagnino creates a deeply bittersweet tone that both elicits a feeling of deep hopelessness regarding the meaning of the characters’ existence and a true hope for the power and redemption of connection. Maren finds another “eater” like her named Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a drifter who is plagued by demons from his family’s past, similar to Maren. The two immediately see themselves in each other, a feeling they never thought they would truly understand. Their story could be filled with horror and rejection, but, due to a passionate script and two incredible lead performances, ends up being one of belonging and love. Living on the edges of society can be hostile and unforgiving, but learning to grow up and mature is still possible, even in a life that seems unfair in every way.
With this hope comes darkness and confusion in the form of many uneasy side characters, led by a daring and odd performance from Mark Rylance as Sully, an older “eater” whose motives are often unclear. Being a cannibal on the underbelly of American society comes with its fair share of dangerous characters, and Maren and Lee run into their fair share of them during their trek across America. Much of BONES AND ALL deals with the battle between this darkness and the light that Maren and Lee feel when they are together. The answer to what mentality wins this battle is not explicit and I am still pondering exactly what the film was trying to tell us in its final moments, but the search for meaning throughout is powerful enough to justify the ambiguity of the ending. Although Maren may not find exactly what she was looking for, she very much “comes of age,” with the experiences of this narrative giving her an emotional maturity she did not possess at the film’s outset.
I do not believe BONES AND ALL would be half as engrossing without the two incredible lead performances from Chalamet and Russell, both of whom deserve awards recognition for their work here. Russell anchors the story with a quiet subtlety that conveys more emotions than words ever could, and Chalamet brings his typical charisma without compromising the tragedy behind his dialogue. BONES AND ALL may be a slow movie on the surface but while watching, it becomes an enthralling drama with some of the more rich character work of 2022. We follow people in a morally repugnant group in society, yet we come to truly care for them and hope that they can live a fulfilling life despite their identity. This brutally beautiful movie is one that will likely stick with audiences for a long while, delivering a poignant and fascinating movie-going experience.