Bones and All Is a Tender Cannibal Romance

The ultimate drama queens, cannibals. Cannibals are the ultimate drama queens. Additional problems arise from cannibal-love. How to broach the subject of this dietary proclivity with someone you’re attracted to? Or is it better to associate only with your kind, to break bread—or whatever—only with those wholly in tune with your needs and impulses?

Luca Guadagnino’s The Bones, and all that is. playing at the 79th Venice Film Festival, pleads sympathy for those who crave human flesh: in the movie’s universe, they’re tragic figures, a little like vampires but not nearly as sexy, people who didn’t ask to be born with such unholy cravings but who must learn to live with them nonetheless. (The movie was adapted from Camille DeAngelis’ 2016 novel of the same name.) Guadagnino’s film is artful and tender, if occasionally almost too tense and brutal to bear. Watching it—waiting to see where it was going to end up, and finding myself in thrall to one performance in particular—I wondered if this film might haunt me forever. After it ended, however, I was able to shake off its grip. All BonesThis is very romantic. It’s so carefully made, and so lovely to look at, even at its grisliest, that it ends up seeming a little remote, rather than a movie that draws you close. You will still find something interesting every minute. And Guadagnino—whose last movie was the drab 2018 Suspiria remake—at least keeps this extended metaphor for loneliness and alienation whirring. You could say anything you want about it. Bones, AllIt is not boring.

And the movie’s first third or so is truly haunting: we meet lonely teenager Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell, the sensational young actor who anchored Trey Edward Shults’ underappreciated 2019 family drama Waves), who’s living somewhere in 1980s Virginia with her father (played, with marrow-deep mournfulness, by André Holland). She’s a loner, but not by choice. A friendly classmate invites her to a sleepover, and though her father, for reasons that later become clear, locks her in her room at night, she sneaks out and makes her way to the girl’s house. As she and her new friend lie huddled side-by-side on the floor, Maren takes the girl’s finger into her mouth down to the knuckle, in a moment that at first looks like tentative sexual exploration. Then she bites down, hard, devouring it almost before she realizes what she’s done.

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Russell and Chalamet both find safety in one another

Yannis Drakoulidis—Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures—© 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a horrifying moment, and it sets the movie buzzing like a restless insect. When Maren’s father finds out what’s happened, he hustles his daughter into the family car, hightailing it to another state. This is the rhythm they’ve settled into over the years, anytime Maren’s uncontrollable urges get the better of her. Maren awakens one morning to discover her father is gone. He has left her a tape, outlining significant events in her life—describing those moments in which he was forced to reckon with her true nature—and explaining that he can’t protect her anymore, that she’ll have to find her own way. To hear Holland’s voice on this tape, resigned to abandon the person he loves more than anyone, is to step squarely into the melancholy heart of this portion of the movie.

Maren’s father has also left behind a wad of cash and her birth certificate, the latter of which gives her clues to the whereabouts of the mother she’s never known. Did her mother look like hers? She must know. So she sets out to find others on an American middle-American adventure. Sully, played by Mark Rylance (an almost creepy actor who refers only to himself as Mark Rylance) is her first companion traveler. This rickety man speaks with a Jimmy Stewart-like drawl and uses the third person. Sully teaches Maren a thing or two, like how to find meals without actually killing people—or at least not directly. The two share a lip-smacking, bloody raw dinner—for easier cleanup, Sully has stripped down to his skivvies. (Bones, AllIt is almost a completely dull movie. I think I am the only one who laughed at Sully wiping his stained hands on his white, saggy underpants. Maren is taught by Sully to recognise others similar to them. And that’s how she meets the lanky loner who will become her spiritual twin, the reckless, dreamy-eyed Lee (Timothée Chalamet), another lone wolf cannibal who’s been torn away from his family and who makes his way in the world as best he can, feeding on the worst people he can find as a way of assuaging his own guilt and self-loathing.

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Chalamet is just about everybody’s darling these days, and in The Bones, and all that is. he doesn’t disappoint. He is a scruffy elfin, with stoopy eyes that look at the world through heavy-lidded, appraising ones. His clothing, often stolen from his victims, includes droopy-cool PJ shirts and jeans torn practically from thigh to ankle—they’re almost like invisible pants, revealing his underfed bones beneath.

Lee and Maren make a great couple. They learn from each other, and they share their bloody secrets with one another, often accompanied by austere, meticulously plucked guitar notes that dot the movie’s aural landscape like invisible dandelion seed. Trent Reznor and Atticus are responsible for the movie’s music. But even though this romance is supposed to be the movie’s heartbeat, something goes out of the picture when Chalamet shows up, as languidly charming as he is. Because even though he’s the bigger star, it’s Russell who owns the movie. Maren’s hair is slicked back in baby buns, a nod to the childhood innocence that she didn’t have. Her eyes are open to the possibility of a whole new world. “I found” was what I meant. Bones, All surprisingly easy to shake off, I wasn’t being wholly honest with myself: the desolation of Maren’s face in the movie’s early scenes—an expression of loneliness and self-revulsion, overshadowed by an even stronger will to live—is what I’ll remember when I look back on Bones and all. A doomed romance is one thing—we see those all the time. But a doomed love of self is the bigger tragedy, and in this movie, that’s the music and language of Russell’s face.

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