Bones and All

Bones and All ★★★★★

“You wanna be people? Let’s be people.”

Simply put, Bones and All is brilliant, bewildering, brutal, and beautiful, all at the same time. Another movie may be called Everything Everywhere All at Once this year, but in a way, that title applies here as well. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie that tackles as many tones as this one - blending dark humor, heart-rending romance, and horrific violence - and synthesizes them all into such a satisfying, spell-binding, and supremely scrumptious final form. What director Luca Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich have created here is nothing short of cinematic alchemy - a movie that effectively captures all the highs and lows that accompany the emotional chaos of being alive. While it’s been sold (and sometimes dismissed) as a “cannibal love story,” there’s so much more on this film’s mind than that dismissive distinction can describe.

One of the reasons Guadagnino has become one of my favorite filmmakers this century is because of his awe-inspiring ability to adapt already acclaimed source material and convert it into cinema that simultaneously honors what came before and rivetingly recontextualizes it with new settings or social commentary. Here, he and Kajganich turn the plight of these “eaters” into a broader parallel for anyone who’s ever felt like an “outsider” - or, more specifically, an “other.” It’s not hard to then connect the dots between “other” and “queer,” especially when the film is set during the height of the 80s - and the height of Reagan’s America, when millions were dying from AIDS due to institutional ignorance and societal shaming directed at the gay community - and that’s where the film’s true thematic power lies.

At its core, Bones and All is a story about the longing to be loved - and finding the one who finally makes you feel seen - especially in a world where that connection is all too rare, and where you can oftentimes feel like “the only one of your kind,” destined to drift through time aimlessly, with nothing to live for, until the day you die. And in spite of the danger you encounter almost every second you exist - both from outside your “community” and within - this person serves as your shield from the ugliness of the turbulent times we must traverse. Bones and All is also, naturally, a film about hunger - and not just the hunger for human flesh, but the insatiable desire for emotional intimacy as well. For someone to see you for all you are - even the evil you may seek to scrub out - and want all of you, every second, minute, and hour of every day. The desire to be so close with another person that you almost become one.

It’s through this theme that Taylor Russell takes control of the narrative and presents her Maren as perhaps the perfect protagonist for a story such as this - a teenage girl constantly at war with the dirty desires of her monstrous mind who finds herself “disposed of” by her dad (with nothing more than a few hundred bucks, her birth certificate, and a tape recording recounting her painful past left behind) and searching for someone to see (and support) her as she is, instead of sprinting away. At first, she seeks this solace in her absent mother, but over time, it becomes clear that the companionship she shares with a local stranger named Lee is greater than any affinity her family has ever had for her. He’s been on his own longer than Maren has. He knows the painful truth of their way of life more personally. But, like her, he too has been missing one thing: someone to share it with.

Russell is ravishing here - she’s in almost every frame of the film, she owns every single scene, and because Maren is our entrypoint into the everyday anguish of an eater’s existence, the audience only feels every eater’s emotion as acutely as we do because Russell is so entirely immersed in Maren’s identity - but I was also sincerely shocked by how sublime Timothée Chalamet was as the sly, seductive, and surprisingly sincere Lee. It’s no secret that Timothée is one of my favorite actors working today, but even though his enormous talent is well-documented by now, I still didn’t foresee being so deeply moved by his embodiment of this tortured soul. When we first meet Lee, Chalamet has dialed up his skeezy yet sensual showboating to an 11, baffling us with his brashness and yet provoking us with his sexual provocation at the same time, but by the end, he has painstakingly peeled back all of Lee’s layers to reveal the battered husk of a human being he truly is, in a scene that will surely leave every viewer sniffling. It’s a highpoint in Chalamet’s already impeccable career, and the most deeply felt beat in the film as well.

The other actors are equally entrancing - Mark Rylance has perhaps the next most notable part as an eccentric eater who can’t seem to leave Maren and Lee alone, while Michael Stuhlbarg and Chloë Sevigny stun in one scene a piece - but, unsurprisingly, the movie belongs to Russell and Chalamet, as it becomes clear by the final frames that, whatever genre themes Bones and All toys with here or there, at the end of the day, this was always a tragic romance, through and through, above all else. An earnest plea to seek out those who make your life a little lighter, even just by a bit, instead of locking yourself away from intimacy on account of your own insecurities. Because, even if this love can’t last forever, you’ll still have the memory of that unforgettable moment where you met someone who made you feel like you were home - appreciated, adored, and accepted as you are. And isn’t that all any of us want in this wicked world?

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Zoë Rose Bryant liked these reviews