Love is a multi-faceted thing, containing highs and lows that cannot be anticipated or prepared for. It’s something you’re born with a proclivity for, not unlike other positive and negative traits, but it can be both the most blessed and cursed of things.
Luca Guadagnino has become an international name after his breakthrough success with Call Me By Your Name, a movie starring Timothée Chalamet and a cannibal. His 2018 cover album version of Suspiria was one of the best horror films to grace screens in ages, taking the wildness of Dario Argento’s original film and paying loving homage while expanding to be something quite grander. Guadagnino takes character interaction to strange places, often utilizing what are regrettably memeable moments to create powerful interactions between performers that embrace his worlds. He’s now decided to apply that to Camille DeAngelis’s YA novel Bones & All and while his final piece has no real cannibals in it there’s a lot to digest.
Life for Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) just got very complicated. Her father (André Holland) disappears after leaving her in a safe home one night, desperate to be away from his daughter after she sucked the meat off of a friend’s finger at a sleepover. This isn’t the first time she’s done something like this and it won’t be the last, but the pressure of raising a cannibal daughter has grown to be too much. She stumbles through middle America, no identification other than her birth certificate, and falls into the company of two like her at different times. Sully (Mark Rylance) is an older gentleman, one that’s practiced and careful about how he goes about eating, but he’s frightening and uncomfortable to be around. Lee (Timothée Chalamet) is the opposite – a handsome young twig of a man that carries himself with charisma and confidence through this life of addiction and blood without regret or shame for who he is. Maren teams up with Lee to travel across this quiet America, haunted by the disappearance of her father and desperate to meet her mother in order to uncover just what it is that makes her an ‘eater.’
This version of Reagan’s America is bluntly set in locations that have not changed in the decades since his reign. Luca Guadagnino has chosen to create a film not only based in these locations but about these people, those occupying quieter locations throughout the Midwest that feel lost to time. There are only brief moments that remind us this isn’t a modern world such as a birth certificate utilized as an acceptable form of ID, the logo on a Wendy’s bag. These small reminders stand in the face of things that should feel ancient or outdated but still exist, leaving it to hold a timeless sensation. It’s not an easy journey but it’s one that many still face as they wind their way through worlds that never wanted to grow beyond a dream of faerie from yesteryear.
Drawn-out drama is peppered with moments of highly unsettling violence and discomfort, whether it be uncertainty of Sully’s interest in Maren or the way these people gnaw on others. Some eaters don’t eat their own, others do, and some have found partnership outside of their proclivities with individuals that are just curious about it. Nothing sits right and it’s treated as a curse that cannot be lifted, forcing a hunger on the afflicted that means they must feast. These images are captured by cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan, painting a lovely and bleak portrait that’s almost as bare as the bones remaining after a meal. This is scaled down from Guadagnino’s previous films, something much more intimate and tender, and it’s been slow-cooked to perfection in order to capture this section of America that is often forgotten in cinema.
I talk often about the strong, steady hand of Mark Rylance. We’ve already been blessed with one gorgeous performance from him this year with The Outfit and he’s now brought us this absolute marvel. His quiet, awkward puttering is some of the most uncomfortable and off-putting work I’ve seen in a long time and it’s absolutely wonderful. He’s shockingly outdone by our two leads, with Chalamet and Russell giving us a beautiful romance between two people that just want to make their way in a world while they hide their true nature. Bones & All may be about cannibals roaming the country but at its core is simply about that feeling of home brought by finding true understanding. The work done by the two leads is nothing short of extraordinary and gripping. The Dune star is under a different sort of pressure here, containing a world of hurt that he hides under a veneer that’s as cocky as it is false. Taylor Russell, meanwhile, has come a long way from Escape Room. Her performance is one of subtlety, wearing quiet emotions on her face and prone to silence over outburst.
This very specific is captured so beautifully by musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Two of my favorite composers and members of the band Nine Inch Nails, they’ve scaled down compared to some previous works in order to create a disturbing and romantic score that is possibly my favorite of 2022. Nothing feels quite right and yet nothing feels out of place, creating a fascinating odyssey that culminates in Reznor singing what may be one of his most beautiful songs to date. Nothing thrills me like a score that can stand on its own and we’ve gotten that here, a blissful and freaky series of tracks that feels at times like Ben Salisbury’s work on Annihilation before zagging further into epic romanticism. Just an absolutely beautiful album.
Luca Guadagnino’s Bones & All is quite beautiful, quite bleak, very romantic, and will absolutely feel unsatisfying to a great deal of you. It pulls no punches but it’s also not in any hurry, instead content to wander to its conclusion. The thing that keeps your butt in the seat and your eyes on the screen is the sheer beauty of it all. It’s a stunner, and I don’t think I’ll soon get it out of my head.
Bones & All is currently in theatres.