“I don’t know whether to cry, or scream, or laugh, or what,” cries Maren (Taylor Russell) in one scene of Luca Guadagnino’s latest film “Bones and All.” Just like Maren, you won’t know whether to cry or scream or laugh when watching Guadagnino’s latest film. “Bones and All” is a grisly but surprisingly delicate story of young love and the search for belonging.
We are introduced to this world through teenage cannibal Maren, who has been abandoned by her father (André Holland) after a highschool sleepover ending in bloody dismemberment. Later on, she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet) at a convenience store, looking on as he deals with — and consumes — an obnoxious customer. As they fall in love, the pair set out on a road trip across Middle America in search of Maren’s long-lost mother.
On the road, they encounter other “eaters” like Sully (Mark Rylance), a creepy loner who is eager to take Maren under his wing. Others, like two redneck eaters (Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green) whom they cross paths with in Missouri, are more palpable threats.
Somehow, despite the cannibalism, you still care for Maren and Lee. While Guadagnino doesn’t shy away from the visceral shock of their unspeakable impulses, his empathic view of their lifestyle keeps us from seeing them as monsters. The act of feeding — ripping with teeth, face deep in the flesh of another human — is an assault on the senses. Cannibalism is shown for what it is: feral, animalistic and shameful.
What defines Maren, Lee and other eaters is an illness, a lifestyle and an identity. It’s something they’re born with and something those around them — the ones who become their meals — can never fully understand. Even as a toddler, Maren is discovered feasting on her babysitter.
The film doesn’t define the origins and particulars of this strange hunger, leaving it as an enigma for a quietly thoughtful Maren to grapple with. It makes her an outsider to society but also, in some ways, unknowable to herself.
Throughout the film, Maren searches for a more ethical approach to cannibalism. She discovers that individual eaters seem to make their own rules. Sully tries to seek out victims who are on the verge of death, while Lee persuades himself that his prey somehow had it coming. Maren, however, still imagines herself as inherently good. Her belief in her own innocence is disarming, and Russell’s performance is fresh and earnest.
Guadagnino is a talented visual storyteller, and you feel that in every frame of this film. He pairs lingering shots of the rural Midwest with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ tender, wistful score, making “Bones and All” feel fully lived-in even in its most languid moments. A sense of isolation suffuses its atmosphere, and through it, we gain a deeper sense of the loneliness haunting those living on the margins — those in towns ravaged by an opioid crisis, political ideological rot, inherited family trauma and broken homes.
“Bones and All” is a story about the longing to be loved — and finding someone who finally makes you feel seen in a world where that connection is all too rare and where you can oftentimes feel like “the only one of your kind,” as Maren calls herself early on.
Guadagnino’s film is also, naturally, a film about hunger — and not only the hunger for human flesh, but also the insatiable desire for emotional intimacy. It is the desire for someone to see you for all you are — even the darkness you try to scrub out.
Young love lingers, filling a special place in the heart, and so too does “Bones and All.” Guadagnino’s film contains bone-chilling horror but also an unexpected depth that will swallow you whole.
Hannah Eliot SC ’24 is from San Francisco, California. She likes to surf and is trying to learn to play the guitar.