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Bones and All ★★★★★



Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, and Mark Rylance

Release Date: November 25, 2022 (UK)

Bones and All is an emotionally transcendent genre mash-up. With glee, it wears its road movie, cannibalistic horror, and romance/coming-of-age tropes on its sleeves. Still, by combining disparate elements, the film’s identity, much like its main characters, is wholly unique. Taking YA material and turning it into timeless storytelling once more, Luca Guadagnino has crafted his finest film yet, one whose every frame is lusciously constructed to view these young cannibals as they see themselves and how they see a world that does not accept them. Replete with a stunning acoustic guitar score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and a central performance by Russell that is universal in her depiction of the search for the acceptance of self, Bones and All is emotive cinema at its most intimate and physically destructive and 2022’s best film.  

In Reagan’s America, Maren Yearly (Russell) is abandoned by her father after the former’s cannibalistic episode at a friend’s house. Alone and aware of her impulsive personality geared towards human flesh, Maren sets out on a road trip to discover why she is the way she is. Early on, she meets Lee (Chalamet) and other ‘eaters’, with whom Maren begins a romance that will aid her search for self and only affirm their otherness.

Bones and All has a tone and momentum, at times racing through its sickening display of violence and, at others, luxuriating in these characters’ brutality of consumption as a form of depicting romance and belonging. Cannibalism is less of a point of horror here and more of a burden of otherness, as Maren and Lee struggle with urges and a community of eaters that pull them in different directions but never away from them each other. Their bond is one of understanding, Guadagnino’s framing and use of score constantly compounding how they are both adrift in the world they are coming into and learning to find footing in. The film’s colour grading oscillates with Maren’s emotions regarding herself and Lee, jumping between cold blues and warm oranges as the vistas of America become open spaces and constricting boxes of self-discovery and self-loathing. Maren and Lee’s only respite from their internal otherness is with each other. Guadagnino’s depiction and evolution of their relationship is achingly honest and genuinely authentic in his aesthetic accentuating life’s fantasies and the horrors of its realities.

Russell was already a force in 2019’s Waves, so it is no surprise that she is staggering as Maren, unable to relish her feasts and buckle under the weight of what she discovers about herself, Lee, and the world around her. She is the star of this film, radiating joy in discovery, love, comfort, and fear concerning self-doubt. Chalamet is heartbreaking as a young man that thinks it’s safer to be aloof than it is to be grounded, and as their relationship develops, to see Chalamet play Lee as ever more relaxed and at ease with himself is a testament to their chemistry and how Guadagnino and his recurring star work so well together. To briefly mention Rylance, as too much discussion would tread into spoiler territory, his character is a diluted, twisted image of what Lee and Maren could be with age, with entrenched otherness, no love and acceptance over their cannibalism. He is blood-curdling in his drive, despair, and loneliness, culminating in a moment of desperation that is as devastating as it is unbearable to watch.

The interconnectivity and abject nature of intermingling human bodies is a thematic undercurrent of Guadagnino’s work, yet by combining the sensual with the invasive, Bones and All becomes much more about the human body as the first and final frontier about self-understanding. The cannibalism of the film can be read in a myriad of ways; a metaphor for gender fluidity, patriarchal societal standards, and issues of class, race, and otherness. Regardless of which reading the viewer chooses, Guadagnino and his star in Russell always ensure that the central relationship is always affecting in its depiction as the only solace in a time when trying to find your place in the world as much about the world accepting you as it is about getting yourself. It’s challenging to create who we are, and it’s difficult to come to terms with who we thought we were, but we must accept the whole truth and love for ourselves and others, bones and all. 

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