Like many artsy, subversive films, Bones and All is a bit of a mess. Both absurd and ambitious, tasteful and revolting, this dark adventure is too long, too violent, and too much. But at the same time, there’s no denying that it’s up to something more than just grossing you out. Despite its cannibal premise, the film (based on a novel about two flesh-eating lovers) is a sensitive, sensual feast. Writer-director Luca Guadagnino is one of our great authors of teenage romance. He gets under the skin of his characters and shows us what makes them tick.
Though his protagonists are into literal skin, Bones still finds time to be poetic and even provides unexpected moments of grace. While Guadagnino made a name for himself with the sunny vacation drama Call Me By Your Name, he goes in a very different direction on this one, taking the premise of romantic road movies and adding a full-course meal of gore. In fact, Bones could easily be called “Eat, Prey, Love.”
When we meet Maren (Taylor Russel), she’s living in the middle of Virginia with her father and sneaks out to see a friend. As the two lie on the floor, she takes the girl’s finger and puts it in her mouth, and then bites down as hard as she can. It’s a truly shocking moment, one that might send half the theater running for the exits, as it did during our screening. When she returns home covered in blood, her father looks at her like he’s just seen a ghost. This isn’t their first rodeo, but Maren wakes up the next morning to a note that says she’s on her own and that she needs to find help.
The first person she meets is Sully (Mark Rylance), a nomad who wears a boy scout uniform and has an appetite for more than cookies. Sully teaches Maren a thing or two about eating—like how to catch meals on the lam—but most importantly, he teaches her how to find others like them. That’s how she meets the boy who will become her partner, the lanky, red-eyed Lee (Timothee Chalamet), another eater who’s been torn away from his family and charts his own path. With a stolen truck, the two head out across the country in search of food, though what they are really after is connection.
With music by Trent Reznor, and a dreamy, textured feel employing a handheld camera to capture the scope of terrain and the expression of each actor, Bones’ story is told in an almost wordless way. Each character says more with their eyes than their lips, and the performances by Russell, Chalamet, and Rylance are remarkable, especially in the way that Russell and Chalamet are able to convey reams of dialogue in a single glance. In a scene on a mountain, they tell you everything you need to know just by staring at each other.
There are moments when you want to look away from Bones and All, but it’s so gorgeously rendered as a carnal attraction, you can’t. It feels like something we shouldn’t be watching, a diary filled with the highs and lows of a cannibal romance. It is staggering, and sometimes horrifying, but it hits a nerve that is deeply human–a place beneath the mounds of flesh, skin, and bone that hide our innermost thoughts and feelings. Is it messy? You betcha. But then again, so is teenage love.
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