She hasn’t been at school long, lives in the trailer park, has worn out clothes and no new school supplies. Maren (Taylor Russell) is a born misfit. And then the prettiest of the class invites Maren to her house, together with the other friends, to goof around and listen to music. Of course she sneaks out of there in the evenings without her strict father’s knowledge. With her new friend, she experiences an unprecedented closeness and intimacy – until the unthinkable happens.
Only after she ran away in a panic and hastily washed off the blood does Maren gradually begin to understand what happened. And only when she sets off on the bus the next morning alone, with only a road map and an audio cassette that her father had spoken to as a reminder in her luggage, does she realize: The police will probably soon be on her heels, because she is with one born with a curse that will accompany her throughout her life. Maren has an indomitable lust for human flesh.
Bones and All is Italian director Guadagnino’s first film to be shot in the United States. The road movie is based on the youth fantasy novel “Bones & All” by Camille DeAngelis, from which Guadagnino extracts the coming-of-age core: Maren sets out to find her mother, whom she never knew, to find out more about herself . But what she discovers is a completely different, no less shocking truth.
cannibals among themselves
Because there are more people like her, born cannibals, who cannot suppress this greed in them. Dealing with the horrible cravings of each is very different: there’s old Sully (harmlessly creepy portrayed by iconic actress Mark Rylance) who genuinely tries to deal with his bodily needs in an ethical way that isn’t necessarily appetizing. He finds Maren solely through his fine sense of smell, which has been trained for decades. At his side, the girl learns a lot about his disposition.
But Maren moves on in her search for her origins. In a supermarket, she meets the downtrodden young Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who, evidently consumed with self-loathing, has found a completely different strategy for his cannibalism. For Maren, Lee, a cannibal of almost the same age, is a revelation. And she, too, means more to him than he can tell her: a person who accepts him for who he is without judging. Who can understand and endure him. But Maren still has to find her mother.
Road movie with eternal hunger
The predicament of the teenage cannibals in Bones and All is reminiscent of the scrupulous vampires in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” book series, who make do with hunting wild animals and artificial blood supplies. Here things are far less appetizing, a meal prepared by teenage cannibals is not a child’s birthday party. Guadagnino follows a horror trend towards human flesh, as seen in “Raw” (2016), the directorial debut of future Palme d’Or winner Julia Ducourneau (“Titane”), where a young vegan discovers her lust for meat while studying veterinary medicine.
In “Bones and All”, Chalamet interprets cannibalism as an image of being an outsider and dealing with and suffering from addiction, as he said in an interview with ORF.at: “I know people in New York who are addicted to drugs. And as I worked on this film, it became increasingly clear to me that cannibalism works as a powerful metaphor for addiction. For wrestling with what feels like an inner curse. And for feeling dirty and damaged.”
The impossibility of ethical consumption
Only the romance in the film is the moment that lets Lee feel his humanity again – love as an antidote, as the only drug that helps. At the same time – and interpretatively almost more obvious – the basic question can be recognized in the plot, whether ethical consumption, especially ethical nutrition, is possible. The literary source was written by a declared vegan.
“Even if the film is not explicitly about the climate catastrophe, it is very relevant,” says Chalament. “Because it’s actually like this: As individuals, we can lead the most modest existence in terms of our consumption, but just by being on earth, we still contribute to the dirt and the catastrophe.” From this perspective, it’s also very exciting been shooting in the American Midwest, “where governments don’t necessarily think ethical consumption, resource awareness and climate policies are important. And you can see that in the landscape.”
Shooting in poisoned lands, with a European director apparently taking inspiration from authors like Jack Kerouac and his literary and literal crossings of America, adds to the film’s haunted yet infinitely romantic atmosphere. “In these areas, the traditional gamble of ‘going west’ is still considered the ideal, the idea of conquest, always-more-ever-further. But that is exactly what is directly responsible for the dying of the planet, which we can already observe. The collapse of society as we know it is in the air in America.”
Space Prince and Street King
For Chalamet, “Bones and All” is a return to its discoverer: Guadagnino was partly responsible for the hype surrounding the now 25-year-old, who has become a superstar through roles such as in the space opera “Dune”. In Guadagnino’s 2017 sun-drenched romance Call Me By Your Name, he played a high school student who falls hopelessly in love with one of his father’s students. “But honestly, to me this new film feels just as tender as it did then, and just as much like a film about longing for love,” says Chalamet.
After the world premiere in Venice, Guadagnino was awarded the lion for best director and leading actress Russell, whose first cinema role in the drama “Waves” (2019) had already been impressive, and the Mastroianni Prize for best newcomer acting. Desire, loneliness and being an outsider are questions that apparently do not only concern teenagers.