Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All (2022) is the equivalent of cinematic circumlocution. Two estranged souls united by their physical urge to eat humans have so little marrow in their bones that they crack and brake at almost every step of the way. And since Guadagnino makes it a painfully long road for them to go, Bones and All (2022) eventually turns into a collection of scattered scenes, random characters, and loosely tied ends that try to cover up the hollow sound of a yawn that it deserves.
Can cannibals be sexy?
There are probably many ways to tackle this dilemma, one that’s been on the world’s greatest minds for centuries.
With all seriousness, though, Guadagnino poses a question that could be redefined into exploring the following – did the Twilight saga become such an influence because of the whole blood-sucking thing?
Or was the craze all about hot, young actors playing in a dumb rom-com?
Perhaps we were all blinded by a mediocre piece of mass literature-turned-film, like in the case of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2006)…
The answer is: hard to tell.
In the case of Bones and All (2022), stripping Lee (Timothée Chalamet) and Maren (Taylor Russell) of their man-eating inclination wouldn’t alter the film’s message that much. Although the movie didn’t quite work for me on many levels, I did find it intriguing enough to vivisect and scrutinize.
Cannibalism is a metaphor for coming-of-age and exploring sexuality
Guadagnino begins his tale with an electroshock.
Maren moves to a new town with her father (André Holland), but something’s off right off the bat. An exemplary student on paper, Maren’s desperate to make connections and find approval among her peers. However, that’s where her bizarre instincts kick in – the same ones that push her to bite off her new friend’s finger at a sleepover party.
The symbolism isn’t too nuanced, but it’s nonetheless effective – cannibalism represents the coming-of-age process; the call of nature to cross barriers and explore. Through this one scene, Guadagnino also emphasizes the sexual dimension of the cannibalistic drive. Before indulging herself with a finger-licking good meal, Russell cuddles up with goo-goo eyes and body language that says titillation.
Exploring sexuality continues throughout her journey with Lee. Played by Timothée Chalamet, Lee represents the problems magnet type that lures her kind of sweet innocence, but not in a predatory manner, like a spider weaving his web. Unlike films that depict manipulative practices of men who carefully pick victims of mental and physical abuse – like the deeply unsettling Sundance drama Palm Trees and Power Lines (2022) – Guadagnino’s narrative refrains from going too sociopolitical.
Think of how the two share their “my first time” stories. Guadagnino purposefully dresses the dialogue as the “sex chat,” transforming the cannibalistic coming-of-age into a sexual innuendo. Like Julia Ducournau did in Raw (2016), where mean-eating was also a way of forming a quasi-sexual identity.
Both films stood out, because cannibalism was rarely explored in cinema in ways different than opportunistic, as in catching the grisly shock value of the deed itself. Most movies about cannibalism were horrors, going as obscure as Blood Diner (1987), through pure-shock value in Cannibal Holocaust (1980), or a more recent example of The Green Inferno (2013). Even the saga about Hannibal Lecter, although rich in layers of social commentaries and psychological insights into a criminal’s psyche, left cannibalism as merely a mechanism of inducing stupor.
As a final testament to the metaphorical use of cannibalism in Bones and All (2022) comes, the finale and the concept of the “eat me whole” whim.
If you translate this to a less verbatim language, the idea of giving oneself entirely to another person is an expression often used as an expression of love. That may be formulated as “I’d give my life for her/him” or any other promise that deals with absolute terms such as death.
Hence, although the technical aspect remains rather unimaginable, Lee begging to be eaten on his deathbed is, in fact, a final love letter.
Bones and All’s (2022) attempt to talk about isolation
Aside from the sexuality metaphor, Bones and All (2022) clearly relies on the us-against-the-world concept, with Bonnie-and-Clydesque types of protagonists – outlaws who daringly wander the world, deprived of any need to heed their influence on society as long as they’re together.
Let’s look at all the other flesh-eating weirdos that Lee and Maren encounter.
Mark Rylance’s character creeps onto Maren at night like a shady dude whose intentions are blatantly bad. The over-the-top characterization and his soothing method of expressing himself are designed to cause feelings of anxiety and extreme discomfort. Who would like to be around a guy like that?
The next exhibits are David Gordon Green and Michael Stuhlbarg, who play two hillbillies that also sniff out the protagonists. As brief as these appearances are, both Stuhlbarg and Green leave a lasting impression, and one could hope for more. However, let’s not forget that only one of the gentlemen is a flesh-eater, which makes the duo even more disturbing. A stalking watcher who sticks around and learns the rope of becoming something he isn’t next to, a genuinely disgusting guy. Stuhlbarg’s character may not be alone, but his comrade is all fake – a stay-forever peeping tom. That’s still a kind of loneliness.
Then there’s Chloë Sevigny’s minute appearance. A mentally ill person who mutilated her body as a prevention method, now locked up in a psych ward.
None of these people were ever meant to live happily together, because of the condition they have. Like leprosy, the urge to eat human flesh instantly throws these people under the bridge – a position where the only way out is to revoke what’s in their genes.
Now, to become Bonnie and Clyde, you need swarms of officers and a pursuit that’s more of a battue. Bones and All (2022) completely disregard any regular human’s attempts at persecuting the cannibals, so one can only assume that there are patrols, search parties, and some kind of trail leading to Maren and Lee.
Society labels and ostracizes
Following up to the note about societal alientation – without the slightest doubt, one of the more politically invested aspects of Bones and All (2022) is the way Maren and Lee live as outcasts, despite craving a regular, very human life. Their condition makes them criminals in the eyes of the public, but Guadagnino also hints at how marginalized and conflicted the flesh-eater are.
As is the case with many other themes explored by Guadagnino in this film, cannibalism’s just a metaphor. Maren and Lee could be drug addicts, and the narrative would still fit.
Guadagnino patiently observes how the secret society of flesh-eaters exists, living among regular humans. Once again, searching for an identity reverberates resonantly. Maren’s ready to jugulate her eating habits because she’s driven by the desperate need for belonging. Lee’s appearance messes up the plan, but Guadagnino sells a utopian image of living the sweet lie near the film’s finale. Perhaps the lie could be maintained after all?
One more detail comes to mind here – that is the hunting method of Mark Rylance’s character.
Even a man of his age struggles to determine the right, most human, and the least criminal way to satisfy hunger. While the method of patiently waiting reminds that of a vulture, he’s not actively killing – as such, one could even argue that the social noxiousness of the act is significantly less grave and more thoughtful than Lee’s careless killings.
Storytelling is where Bones and All (2022) falters the most
The true gravamen of why Bones and All (2022) fails to climb the level of a masterpiece – or a competently made film across all cinematic fields – is the way the story’s rather pointless.
As I’ve explained earlier, Guadagnino covers several angles – coming-of-age, searching for love, living as an outcast of society, hiding one’s true nature, and so on. Sadly, these concepts have yet to fully develop. The script from David Kajganich feels lacking in a clear direction as if most of the scenes were loosely chained together. Films can be patchworks and succeed at that. For Bones and All (2022), such a combination became an insurmountable obstacle – it’s a pot filled with ideas, but without any heat underneath, it’s just not a cooked meal.
What were your thoughts about Luca Guadagnino’s film? Share in the comments!