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Fine Young Cannibals: “Bones and All” review

They’re just a couple of kids in love…who love eating other people

Bones and All
Starring Taylor Russell & Timothèe Chalamet
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Rated R

See it: In theaters Wednesday, Nov. 11

Lee and Maren seem like a lot of young couples. They drive around, listen to music, have some tiffs with their parents. And when they grab a bite, well, it’s likely not from Chic-fil-A.  

You see, they’re cannibals. Yes, they eat people.

On one level, this insanely, savagely original young-love story is about a couple of outsiders in a harsh world that doesn’t understand or accept them. We can all relate to that, right?

What sets Maren and Lee apart, though, is the compulsion—the craving—they have for human flesh. It’s an acquired taste, we learn, one that’s rooted in both heredity and environment. They find out they’re not alone; they’re part of a gritty, grimy subset of other cannibals. They’re all outcasts, society rejects who refer to each other as “eaters.” The most, ahem, committed of eaters talk of going all in, dining on “bones and all.”

And Lee and Maren feel desperately fated, destined for a life that makes their road a rough, hardscrabble—and often horrific—one.

It’s a weird movie, crazily and often conversely beautiful and romantic, about two 1980s kids living outside the norms of convention—way outside. There’s blood and guts, as you might imagine, but that’s only one element of the bigger story, about a pair of ruggedly attractive castaways wrestling with who they are, and why. And Lee and Maren aren’t particularly happy about what they’re driven to do. But the rush it gives them—like a drug—is a hard habit to kick.

Taylor Russell (who played Judy Robinson in the Netflix reboot of the space sci-fi series Lost in Space) is Maren, abandoned by her father (Andre Holland) after she turns 18. On a quest to learn more about her family, particularly the mother she never knew, she hooks up with a lanky drifter (Timothèe Chalamet), and off they go in search of answers…and their next meal.  

The movie reunites Chalamet—who’s received acclaim (and awards nominations) for his work in Lady Bird, Little Women and Dune—with Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, who directed him inCall Me by Your Name. Guadagnino is a “painterly” director, known for his lush visuals, and the movie even begins with a series of oil renderings depicting serene pastoral scenes that we’ll later see in the film. They “paint” the way for Lee and Maren’s journey, seeking some peace in their unsettled—and unsettling—lives, like the tranquility in those picture-perfect paintings. But they’ll always be outsiders looking in, hunted and haunted.

Rebels on a road trip—if James Dean had a copious amount of blood soaked into his white T-shirt, plus a quirk of dining on carnival workers in an Iowa cornfield, well, he might have fit right into this cannibal club.

It’s a wild ride, for sure. Mark Rylance (below right) is an older, creepy cannibal who teaches Maren how to use her nose to sniff out fresh food. Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green play a pair of odd-couple “eater” buddies. Chloë Sevigny has a shocker of a scene, as a patient in a mental institution.

Maren, especially, contemplates the larger complexities and the implications of feeding her eating habit. Even cows in a slaughterhouse, she notes, have family, and maybe even friends. She advocates no-kill meals, dining on people who have already died. It may sound like a small distinction, but hey, some cannibals have principles.

The movie doesn’t really have a message, as such. But its depiction of cannibalism as addiction, as fate, as a consumptive lifestyle “appetite” alongside other hungers, like sex, lust and love…well, let’s just say I’ll never hear “Lick It Up” the same way again after watching the way that rockin’ KISS hit animates Lee.

Riding a wave of film-festival praise, Bones and All gnaws its way into theaters the day before Thanksgiving. It’s probably not exactly what most people have in mind for a celebratory family feast. But if you’ve got an appetite for the unusual, the unsettling, and for a gutsy spin on being young, angst-ridden, adrift in America and in love, well, lick it up.

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