Lifestyle, Movies & TV

“Bones & All” — The year’s most heartbreaking, horrifying love story

Maren Yearly — played by Taylor Russell — doesn’t want to hurt anyone — it’s just in her nature to do so. Afflicted with a cannibalistic craving, normal life has always been out of the question, and after a gruesome incident involving a classmate, her father abandons her. Maren has always feared this would happen but is left with nothing but a birth certificate and hunger she doesn’t know how to control. 

She knows she is now truly alone in this world.

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | Senior Graphic Artist

Despite its late ‘80s setting, Luca Guadagnino’s, “Bones and All,” unmistakably depicts America as it is today — a desolate wasteland where those on its fringes have to eat or be eaten to stay alive. Striking a precarious balance between horror and romance, Guadagnino dares to subject his audience to a love story that is just as tender as it is terrifying, one that is easy to savor, and harder to stomach.

From the moment Maren meets Lee — played by Timothée Chalamet — in a grocery store, the fellow “eaters” are drawn to each other, either out of solidarity or as a reprieve from each other’s solitude. Setting out with a pickup truck and a need for human flesh, the duo embarks on a brazen search for Maren’s estranged mother, all the while evading an older cannibal named Sully — played by an effortlessly scary Mark Rylance.

Drifting from state to state, the landscapes Maren and Lee encounter are often empty yet gorgeous, their vast nature captured skillfully by cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan. As director, Guadagnino is able to create an atmosphere that is steeped in loneliness — mirroring the isolation his characters have felt all their lives. From a visual standpoint, the movie feels quite staggering in its romanticism, a near impossible feat for something with such depraved subject matter.

With its unrestrained approach to plot, “Bones and All” contains all the best elements of a classic road movie, even if its penchant for blood and gore would seemingly suggest otherwise. It has a lot in common with bastions of the genre such as “The Living End,” focusing on outsiders who fall in love in a land where violence seems to be the only means of survival.

Another reason why the romantic pulse here is strangely convincing is due to the strength of its lead performers. Russell brings such a powerful authenticity to her morally conflicted character, and Chalamet — who previously acted under Guadagnino’s direction in “Call Me By Your Name” — shoulders Lee’s extensive history of trauma with his trademark sensitivity. The actors are so convincing as lovers that one could almost forget they are watching a work of horror at times.

However, for all the beauty it displays, “Bones and All” is still a film about cannibals, and certain scenes are disgusting and genuinely difficult to watch. Guadagnino doesn’t languish too long in the cannibalism on-screen, often cutting away right as the barbarity reaches a fever pitch. However, the implication of it is sickening all the same.

Neither Maren nor Lee take pleasure in consuming others, but they have to do it in order to continue living. As a result, the cannibalism in the film potentially functions as an allegory for many things, such as addiction and repressed identity. The pair longs to lead a normal life, yet their shared disposition makes them outcasts — stranded on the edges of a society they will never truly belong to.

A narrative this tragic can only warrant a tragic ending. Without giving it away, the story builds to a conclusion that is as heartbreaking as it is expected. Russell and Chalamet deliver some of the finest acting of their careers in the film’s final moments, and the haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross helps to drive the last shot home in unforgettable fashion.

“Bones and All” is a devastating exploration of what passion could look like for two individuals who have only known and contributed to a world of suffering. Guadagnino doesn’t point his viewers to one interpretation over the other. Some might be swept up by the romance at the film’s core, while others will understandably be repulsed by its graphic content. 

Such a challenging film is refreshing to see, and if it manages to find the audience it deserves, what the film does and doesn’t say about the significance of love in a bleak world will surely be discussed — and devoured — for years to come.

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