When you watch Luca Guadagnino’s brilliant, incredibly bizarre new film Bones and All, which had its world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival, you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry, or scream. A road movie about two young lovers on the run in 1980s America, the movie is an adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ novel. However, it contains scenes of cannibalism that are so graphic that you must close your eyes.
Several people left during the press screening on Friday morning. Once seen, it’s difficult to get rid of the image of Mark Rylance biting into the flesh of an elderly woman while wearing a white vest and white pants with blood smeared across his mouth. Despite their eating habits, Guadagnino manages to do the almost unthinkable by evoking a strong emotional bond between us and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) and Maren (Taylor Russell), two of the “eaters.”
Here, Maren is first seen as a young woman trying to make friends at school while living with her father (André Holland) in a new town. She quickly learns that the best way to win their affection is not by biting off their fingers like they are breadsticks. She is a sensitive, intelligent young woman, but she has craved human flesh since she was very young. She and her father are accustomed to living on the road. For fear of her being discovered, they can never stay long in one place. There is no sign of her mother. One of the main plot lines of the movie is Maren’s quest to learn more about her missing parent because she has no idea what has happened to her.
Maren eventually finds herself on her own after her father abandons her. She is an adult, as evidenced by her birth certificate and a few dollars.
“Eaters” are able to detect one another. Despite the fact that it is forbidden for the cannibals to eat one another, one of them, the incredibly spooky Sully (Rylance), tries to take advantage of her. She runs away from him and makes a deal with Lee, who is portrayed by Chalamet in a highly romantic manner, as if he were a mix between James Dean and River Phoenix. He even occasionally has the appearance of a modern-day Huck Finn, what with the streaks in his hair and holes in his jeans. He is brave and selfless, but his appetites are inferior to Hannibal Lecter’s. The young flesh eaters fall deeply in love as they travel across the nation.
You are more likely to be reminded of films like Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas or Terrence Malick’s Badlands than of the Cannibal Holocaust or vampire movies thanks to the eerie soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and the lyrical, evocative shots of the open road and the prairies. Guadagnino even adds a few blasts of Joy Division to the soundtrack to heighten the ominous atmosphere.
Russell and Chalamet are excellent as a couple who, despite having had traumatic childhoods, find solace in one another. Both perform in a raw and subtle manner. However, watching Bones And All is incredibly disarming. Some elements are utterly disgusting. Parents attempt to eat their own kids. No explanation for the dark desires of the eaters is given to us.
The young couple, weary from their life on the road, says, “Let’s be people. They seek acceptance, a place to call home, and a place to establish roots. But this is more than just a glib allegory about young people on the periphery of society who face prejudice due to their sexual orientation, race, class, or any other factor.
At one point, Chalamet’s Lee admits out loud how alive he feels when he gorges on human flesh and the pure physical pleasure it brings him. Although he may have the look of the stereotypical young movie rebel, it still surprises me how little regret he feels over the results of his actions.
Guadagnino has spoken about his “tenderness” for his characters, his interest in their “emotional journey,” and how, at times, you hardly even notice how monstrously they behave. This is masterful filmmaking, but it unavoidably has a very off-putting aftertaste.