I found myself at this year’s London film festival, full of anticipation and moral questions as I awaited the UK premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s new film Bones and All, a cannibalistic love story starring Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell. Guadagnino prefaced the screening, with the statement that the film is intended to be “reflective of today” in the way that certain people are forced out of society, aiming to be an embodiment of “the way that young people can overcome that sense of oppression by being the way they are”. Despite this comforting sentiment, I was still quite hesitant about whether this delicate message would effectively come across through the 18+ lens of cannibalism.
Bones and All follows the tale of two outsiders, Maren, tenderly interpreted by Taylor Russell, and the later introduced love interest Lee, played by Timothee Chalamet, as they run from their pasts toward an attempted self-awareness through the winding landscape of Reaganite America. Although cannibalism is what brings these two characters together, this is not a promotional depiction of a couple on a killing spree. Instead, we are taken along on an introspective journey which calls the very morals, rules and restrictions placed on ourselves as individuals and our society into question.
Bones and All mixes the familiar and unfamiliar to create a hyper-realistic, yet off-kilter atmosphere; one which causes tangible tension in the theatre from the outset. A paradoxically excitable tension best compared to the feeling when one is strapped into a rollercoaster and slowly making the ascent toward an unforeseen drop; the adrenaline rush that keeps viewers coming back to horror films to feel the buzz. Guadagnino’s range of visual and audio techniques give the movie an attractive arthouse feel. The audience is taken on a journey spanning states, time and supporting characters that weave themselves into and out of the plot unexpectedly. These changes in location, mixed with close-up shots and snippets of characters’ memories, effectively attach the audience to the protagonists and their struggle for stability and community. Guadagnino’s true cinematic talent is embodied in the closing shot of Bones and All – a shot which has the same emotional profundity as the famous close-up shot of Timothee Chalamet crying in the flickering light of a blazing fire at the end of Call Me By Your Name (2017). Although the content of these two films is drastically different, Guadagnino’s ability to strike emotion into an audience was evident as the film credits roll. The vacuum of tension in the theatre was replaced by two minutes of applause, silent sobbing and an audible gasp from the woman sitting next to me.
Special commendation must be given to the main actors, Chalamet and Russell – as well as the supporting actors: Mark Ryanlace, Chloë Sevigny and Michael Stahlbarg – for their gentle approach to such complex characters. All display their dynamism as artists by providing much-needed humanity, and the acting abilities necessary to carry these heavy dramatic roles across the finish line. Without this, the film could’ve easily turned into a flesh-eating fest full of audience walk outs and misplaced promotion of cannibalism. Commendation must also go to the beautifully haunting soundtrack, provided by award winning duo of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, which significantly added to the sensory layering of the thriller – of which the plot itself was both unexpected and successful in reimagining the romantic genre. Bones and All manages to mix the existentialist style of Jean-Luc Godard with all the terrifying psychological thriller aspects of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017), whilst still alluding to the classic generic conventions of star-crossed lovers like that of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
I left the Royal Festival Hall slightly nauseated and love-sick but wholly impacted. The audience’s collective reaction thought the film was intense throughout; one of laughter, screaming, grimacing and crying. If a film’s success is measured in reactivity, emotivity and audience impact, Bones and All is a triumph. My only fear is that the brutality and vivid depiction of gore in the film that gave it its 18-rating may bar the younger generation Guadagnino intends to reach. Despite that, Bones and All establishes itself as a film full of natural beauty, tragedy and gruesome violence that somehow manages to capture a human vulnerability and desire for acceptance that is both universal and extremely relevant in our post-lockdown world.
If nothing else, Bones and All will make you feel something, whether it be good, or bad and undeniably spark conversation, introspection and philosophical debate. Is that not the real purpose of art? If so, bravo.