Cannibal love story is difficult to stomach
Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
Review Rating: 6/10
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, and Mark Rylance.
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Available in wide theatrical release
“Bones and All” tells a very different story of the disenfranchised.
At least, that’s what director Luca Guadagnino and his screenwriter David Kajganich hope viewers will embrace. It’s also a nasty, unpleasant, and even repulsive film. The extended metaphor working through the movie might not resonate amid all the bloody cannibalism.
The film focuses on Maren (Taylor Russell), a teen living with a dark secret. It’s that secret that causes her father (André Holland) to move them frequently, sometimes in the middle of the night with little advance notice. You see, Maren is a cannibal, and her cravings often push their family unit farther and farther to society’s fringes. Maybe we should be more tolerant, right?
After Maren’s despondent father abandons her, she hops on a bus out into the American Midwest. It’s the 1980s, and escaping and disappearing is still possible. But at one isolated bus stop, Maren discovers that she’s not the only person that can’t stop chomping down on other human beings.
This strange, chance encounter with a man named Sully (a chilling Mark Rylance) shakes Maren to her core. He tells her that he could “smell” her scent, that there are others like him hiding out and carefully hunting. Sully is a man with little compulsion; he eats when the need arises. He encourages Maren to join him in his van for more cannibalistic cross-country adventures.
When Maren parts ways with Sully, she happens upon Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who dispatches an annoying drunk at a grocery store. The two instantly have an interest in each other, but because they have lived their lives so insular to this point, they are hesitant to show any mutual affection. But in a world where these two souls are so radically outside community and legal norms, how can they pass up an opportunity to find true love or, at least, something close to it?
The question of “love” hangs uncomfortably between the two. Is their pairing merely a convenience? And together, can they tame the dark beast within them?
Kajganich’s screenplay is an adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ Young Adult novel of the same name. It’s a rough and uncompromising tale that is finely acted and captured. But given the frank approach to such disturbing subject matter, it’s a movie that’s hard to like.
The film’s protagonists are killers. We’ve seen this kind of thing many times over the years. Terrence Malick’s 1973 road trip/crime spree drama “Badlands” instantly comes to mind. However, while the lovers in that film have some equal criminal culpability, much of the killing and violence falls at the feel of Kit (Martin Sheen), the driving force in the relationship with the largely passive and immature Holly (Sissy Spacek).
Through Holly, viewers had a way into the madness that was manifested in Kit. And to a certain extent, Guadagnino and Kajganich cast Maren as a conflicted cannibal attempting to find a moral justification or middle ground for her horrible crimes. She even explores her past,searching for her mother and some explanations for her genetic predisposition. But she still willingly partakes in the human chow.
It’s very difficult to reconcile Maren’s actions as she gets ever deeper into the cannibal lifestyle.
At some point, she’s irredeemable. And that will be tough for viewers to accept. Unlike other violent road pictures featuring a murderous twosome, like “Natural Born Killers,” “Bones and All” has little humor to take the edge off. It’s a grounded narrative that doesn’t rely on exaggeration to remind us of its metaphoric intentions. The story’s ever-increasing feeling of dread and Guadagnino’s often dour, in-your-face ugly approach are difficult to stomach.
But despite the disagreeable cannibal underpinnings, “Bones and All” proves to be an effective blood-soaked love story. Superstar Chalamet once again reminds us of his impressive emoting skills, and he’s well-matched with the interesting Russell. Their chemistry is a bit of a slow burn, but when it erupts, it simmers effectively.
Taken as a fantasy metaphor, “Bones and All” works to vividly expose the struggle of the outcast. But we weren’t not talking about a personality trait, gender identity question, or another genetic issue that society should tolerate and even embrace. Here we’re given an extreme proclivity that cannot be controlled or accepted in any civilization. No effort is made to consider or explore an option for Lee and Maren (eating the dead, perhaps?) that doesn’t include killings or institutionalization.
It’s a frustrating narrative that asks a lot of the viewers to somehow park our conventional beliefs and consider accepting the dangerous fringe. What’s also troubling is that there seems to be no end to cannibalism. In other words, Lee and Maren are depicted as hopeless addicts whose fix isn’t only harmful to themselves.
For example, Lee repeatedly talks about the “high” he gets when eating human flesh. Self-control is hinted at in the film’s conclusion, but I came away not so sure that the cravings would ever be slaked without continued cannibalism.
“Bones and All” may work for some audiences capable of seeing the metaphor by ignoring the gruesome details.