Looking simply at the new feature film “Bones and All” on a superficial level would mean missing how director Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) has used the familiar horror element of cannibalism as a metaphor for those fighting with addiction, obsession and a search for identity. The director uses how the main characters are driven by an uncontrollable urge to consume human flesh as a way to talk about anything that takes over a person’s life from being a drug addict to being helplessly in love.
Guadagnino uses a physical and emotional road trip as a way to look at how the primal drive in those known as “eaters” manifests itself in the stages of denial, acceptance and then rebirth. Some manage to survive the quest while others are literally and metaphorically consumed by it.
The story – adapted from the Camille DeAngelis 2015 young adult novel Bones and All that’s set against Ronald Reagan’s world in the 1980s – revolves around Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman dealing with this gnawing need inside her that has grown more intense with each passing year. When her desire to eat flesh manifests itself clearly, Maren is abandoned by her father who can no longer deal with the repercussions of his daughter’s actions.
Maren goes on a journey to track down her mother, the parent who passed on this horrifying need. It is on this road trip of discovery that she meets two very different people who are “eaters” like her. The first is Sully (Mark Rylance), a person so creepy that Norman Bates would cross the street to avoid him.
She survives what comes across as a weird obsession by Sully and eventually finds the brooding and disenfranchised drifter, Lee (Timothy Chalamet). They initially bond over their shared dining desires but eventually that relationship begins to take on a deeper meaning.
It is during their trip crossing the Midwest that the young couple discover what it means to consume “bones and all.” This is when so much is consumed during a feeding frenzy that the person is transfixed. In the case of the film, the term refers to the cannibalism but can easily be used in terms of drug or emotional obsession to the point of destruction.
The main strength of “Bones and All” is the relationship between Maren and Lee. Russell (“Words on Bathroom Walls”) brings a strength and vulnerability to the role going from confused to determined with a very smooth transition. It would have been very easy to dislike the character because of her dietary lifestyle but it is easier to sympathize with her battle than to judge her especially when looking at the tale in a broader view.
Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) was born to play this role as his lanky body screams of a person dealing with a dark addiction. His boyish looks make the acts he commits even more horrifying – a real feat.
Rylance brings a needed foil to the story. His bizarre and threatening conduct toward Maren, helps distract from the cannibalism elements. There is a problem in that Rylance’s drooling performance is so exaggerated that he comes close to being more like a cartoon villain than a realistic threat.
Guadagnino doesn’t waste a single frame in telling the tale of these star-crossed lovers whether it be the vast countryside that dwarfs their problems or the physical changes that one “eater” experiences. The approach never fully eclipses the dark central theme of the tale but serves as a way of emphasizing how the battle with any type of addiction may not be as overwhelming as it seems.
Going to a movie on Thanksgiving after the big meal has become a tradition with some. “Bones and All” is a compelling story that can be best enjoyed when consumed in its metaphorical state. If that isn’t possible, pick another one of the many movies that have opened for the holiday weekend as the production might not suit your tastes.
Bones and All
Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothy Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg.
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Rated: R for violence, language, sexual content, graphic images and themes
Running time: 130 minutes.