I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into the theatre to watch Bones and All. Although I certainly know now that I wasn’t disappointed, yet at times taken aback. Of course, I knew the film was Rated R, written and directed by the duo who remade Suspiria in 2018. Perhaps knowing that it was based on Bones & All, more commonly classified as a YA romance, by Camille DeAngelis, I thought the cannibalistic moments would match the softness of the rest of the story. I was wrong.
Bones and All is soft; it is delicate in its emotional moments. That, however, is in stark contrast to the dark gore we witness when the “eaters” feast.
Closely following the journey of Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell), Bones and All is a coming-of-age story about otherness, anxiety, and the search for belonging.
Set in the 1980s, Maren is left to fend for herself shortly after a finger-eating incident. Her father, Frank Yearly (André Holland), along with a small sum of cash, leaves a cassette with his explanation. When it’s revealed that her mother, Janelle Kerns (Chloë Sevigny), may be like her, Maren sets out in search of her.
It becomes pretty clear listening to the tape by her father that whatever Maren is, it’s not something she’s capable of overcoming, no matter how hard she may try. Throughout the film, this tape holds a lot of guilt for Maren until she can fully accept who she is.
On the journey to find her mother, Maren comes across other eaters: the first is Sully (Mark Rylance), an older man with an unsettling vibe, and later Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who rounds out the sweetness of this film’s coming-of-age themes.
Rylance is eerie to watch, but Russell and Chalamet’s chemistry gives the film a yellow-hue glow. Each character has a unique perspective on what they are, and they play into their backstories very well. Just by the look and posture alone, you’re able to get a sense of whom these actors are portraying, and then the dialogue comes in, and you’re swept off your feet into this twisted yet blissful story.
The rough, brown and beige 80s nostalgia grounds the story in a harsh reality where people of the Midwest US at that time were not living in luxury like many in the big cities. The same with the gritty and horrifying moments we see this charming young girl bite into the flesh of another person. The cannibalistic moments of Bones and All are so real it tingles nerves in your body as if you’re there, and sympathetically feeling that bite on yourself.
I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around what the narrative is supposed to mean. The use of cannibalism implies otherness; Russell and Chalamet’s closeness implies a found-fondness, like found family. This could be inferred to represent what it may be like for people of the LGBTQIA community or something about race, but what does Sully imply? What does the tragic ending mean to say?
Bones and All gives a sense of hope for these people and then strips it away. Why?
Looking at the story as more of a coming-of-age film than a romance, the ending might imply that this was all part of Maren’s journey to self-actualization. However, then I feel bamboozled by the heavy focus on the chemistry and co-dependence of Lee and Maren. Perhaps Russell and Chalamet’s chemistry was too good, and I wanted it to work more than I should have. Maybe Bones and All missed in the execution of Maren’s story on her lonesome; perhaps we needed to understand more of who she was by herself to grasp that Lee was not the be-all of this journey for her.
It’s also interesting to note how cannibalism can be used in many ways. Fresh (2022) also used romance, cannibalism, and horror as the core of its story, but the allegory is so different. Perhaps that’s where some of my desire to understand why cannibalism; why this ending is so strong when looking at Bones and All. I’m reaching for the cannibalism allegory to go just one step further.
Regardless, it’s a beautiful film – a pleasure to watch. All of the performances are beautiful. It’s always a pleasure to see Chloë Sevigny on screen, even briefly, and André Holland’s voice was lovely; comforting throughout.
The cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan is light and airy, and the moments of blank space interluding the story are calming and romantic – the horror is entirely grounded in reality. It’s an incredibly well shot and paced film with such delicate touches.
Luca Guadagnino and David Kajganich made yet another classic, highly re-watchable film. It’s graceful and macabre. I recommend seeing it, even if just for Chalamet’s mullet, which was truly spectacular.