Bones And All
An Organic And Ripe American Tale Of Anguish, Regret, And Unconditional Love
If someone told me at the beginning of 2022 that one of this year's most beautiful and tender films was about cannibals in Reagan Era America living on the margins of society………….. I would’ve believed it. Monstrous things have happened and are continuing to happen in this world. Nothing shocks me at this point and finding beauty has become a form of hunting for scraps. I’ll take what I can get and Bones And All delivers beyond my wildest expectations.
Not long after she turns 18, Maren Yearly’s (Taylor Russell) cannibalistic impulses have grown harder to ignore, hungrier to resist, and more desperate to repress. Maren’s broken and exhausted single father has tried his best to protect her from herself over the years and can no longer handle the impossible task. He abandons her, leaving her with only a small sum of cash, her birth certificate, and a tape recording explaining his actions. Learning that she inherited her condition from her mother who abandoned her as an infant, Maren sets off to find her.
Along the way, she meets Sully (Mark Rylance), an eccentric older man with the same condition who informs her that it will only grow stronger as she continues to age. Sully is determined to take young Maren under his wing but her one night with him proves too much to bear and she takes off. Almost out of cash by spending most of it on Greyhound buses, she soon meets Lee, (Timothee Chalamet) another cannibalistic drifter in Indiana. Having lived on the margins longer than she has, he agrees to help her track her mother. Living out of stolen cars, the two make use of telephone books, road maps, and highway signs to reach their destination.
The word “Cannibal” is never used in Bones And All. They refer to themselves as “Eaters” and as Bones And All continues, the more realistic their predicament comes across. As the two devour pancakes and coffee in a diner, you’ll see the significance of their problem. They don’t need to “Eat” to survive, but they do in order to function. Imagine a heroin addict using every day for years only to have none left. Their inability to stop mixed in with Maren’s determination to repress leaves a psychological toll on both of them that starts to ruin them.
Maren eventually agrees to “Eat” only to discover the closeted gay man Lee found for them to feast on has a wife and small child afterward.
“It’s too much,” Maren says, shaking her head in shame and regret as Lee drives off with her, the two of them drenched in blood.
Isn’t it so great when a film overall is just as great as the acting? When outstanding performances and a great script clash, the outcome boils to perfection. That’s Bones And All. Despite all the violence and heartbreak, I didn’t want it to end. There are also many moments of tenderness, love, and happiness. Bones And All is a very complex film about very complex people. They’re all lions struggling to survive in their savannas that have forgotten about them.
Maren and Lee fall so madly in love with one another but their romance becomes that. They first meet out of necessity and things have to crash and burn for them to have the desire to pick up the pieces amongst themselves. As damaged as Maren is, she is the most innocent. She’s an adult but just barely. She has a purity to her that she fights like hell to hold onto and uses it not just for herself but for Lee too. One of the most tender scenes in the film comes when Lee tearfully confides in Maren that he killed his abusive father and that he loved it so much. He also has a younger sister who loves him so much and is furious every time he leaves her.
Maren convinces Lee that they both have something to lose and that if repression is death, they should die trying with one another rather than on their own. They make a life for themselves and things seem like they will work out. Sadly, the past always comes back. Eventually.
Russell exhales life into the shattered brokenness of Maren the same way she did in Waves, (A film from 2019 that most audiences know her for) while Chalamet portrays Lee with pain that shows audiences that he’s so young but looks as though he’s aged fast by the stress of his life. He still has the same boyish smile he had when he starred in Homeland at the beginning of his career.
Chloe Sevigny is only in one scene as Maren’s mother Janelle and she knocks it out of the park. Having voluntarily committed herself not long after leaving Maren, Sevigny says nothing when Maren finally visits her in the hospital but her face gazing on Maren as she reads the letter she left for her says everything. Sevigny’s voice is heard saying the contents of the letter as the screen shows Janelle’s face and body language. She’s consumed both her hands and part of both arms years earlier and she sits still as a crippled vegetable as she watches her daughter’s face observe her words of ruin.
Mark Rylance has always been an actor whose performances border between moving and creepy. Sully is no exception. He resorts to absolutely horrendous acts (Many of them out of revenge that stems from society's rejection of him and refusal to help) and I feared him so much but felt for him just as deeply. After he convinces Maren to give in to her impulses and “Eat”, she showers the blood off her and hops on another Greyhound so fast, her hair is still soaking wet from the shower. As the bus drives off, she sees Sully staring at her so clearly wounded by her rejection of his companionship. The look on his face is one I can’t get out of my mind. He sees Maren and Lee together in society trying to make things work and he sees his lost youth. The idea that he may have missed his chance at happiness ultimately destroys him but he never had a chance. Neither do Maren and Lee. They just got lucky enough to have a little happiness before the long, devastating, horrific but beautiful ending.
Bones And All may not seem like the kind of film audiences would see for escapism but it is because, above anything else, it’s a film about love. It’s not cheesy romance, it's more hardened than that. So many strive to see real gut-wrenching romances on screen and as audiences, we rarely get them. Older audiences who love indies and who lived through the 80s are the audiences who will resonate with Bones And All the most. To be young and in love and have that seem like the whole world is something. I think many young people today have had lives that in some ways prevented them from having that experience.
Bones And All’s portrayal of the 80s are emotionally wounding at times but also has a tiny hint of nostalgia. Society hasn’t gotten any better and despite all the lies many tell themselves, we’ve somehow managed to grow even more intolerant and it will be us in the end who’s left with nothing.
But Bones And All is hardly a reflection of America's account. It’s a survivalist tale of struggle amongst those lost in the crossfires of war. America IS at war. It always has been. War always means violence and the violence in Bones And All is brutal, barbaric, uncensored, and unapologetic but it’s not glamorized or fetishized. There are so many people I would LOVE to praise Bones And All to. People that I know would appreciate it and respect it but just wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’s too AMERICAN a film for most to endure. Yet, there is beauty to be found in the destruction on display here. Many of us are ready for a war to break out. Things can’t continue as they are. Certainly not within the next few years. Bones And All in no way shape or form promote or accept violence but it does show the feeling of release one feels when the world breaks open.
These characters are at war with themselves but that’s the thing about wars: They spread.
The portrayal of violence is what I can only refer to as “Organic”. The level of compassion gay director Luca Guadignino uses here, by using the character's repression as a metaphor for queerness as well as the vastness of open land the characters eventually find themselves lost in and the ripe complexity of everything, Bones And All swallows truly makes this Guadignino’s best film.
IMDb, IMDb.com, 23 Nov. 2022, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10168670/. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.