Luca Guadagnino, who gained a worldwide reputation with Call Me by Your Name (2017), worked with Timothée Chalamet this year again in Bones and All, just like he did in its predecessor which was the center of attention after its release. Turned into a script from American writer Camille DeAngelis‘s novel Bones & All which deals with topics such as feminism, loneliness, self-hatred, and the moral obligations of being a cannibal, the film tells the journey of a young girl who cannot keep up with society and has not yet found her own way in this world. Even if you have read the plot of the movie before, it is easy to expect a movie with similar “good vibes” of Call Me by Your Name since you know that they both belong to the same director. However, for viewers who have this expectation, the result will be very disappointing. The movie not only has very explicit scenes but has very disturbing characters as well. As mentioned before, in addition to Timothée Chalamet (Lee) the movie hosts a young star such as Taylor Russell in the role of Maren Yearly, and it also creates a whole new dimension of discomfort with the character of Sully, played by renowned Mark Rylance. In addition, we also see Michael Stuhlbarg from Call Me by Your Name in the role of a very uncanny character.
Especially after the non-eater -in the movie cannibals are called “eaters”- father (André Holland) leaves Maren on her own, the story turns into a full coming-of-age story. Left alone, Maren takes a step on a journey that is quite painful but completely necessary for her character development. Maren, who does not know what to do alone, only wanders and must deal with her cannibalistic nature and her identity crisis. The director of the film, Guadagnino, stated that he comes from a Catholic culture and that the ritual of cannibalism actually takes place in the background of every day of their lives -we can think of consuming the bread for the body of Christ, and the wine for his blood-. Usually, these types of coming-of-age stories focus on instincts that are irresistible. For instance, werewolves are the embodiment of appetite, violence and sexual drive. So are vampires, who can deny the sexual attraction of biting someone’s neck?
In such stories, surreal characters have always been cursed entities who live without suppressing the aspects of their nature that are generally recommended to be suppressed by the society. In this film, the director reflects the irresistible nature of impulses through the eyes and lives of the cannibals. However, it is impossible to see Maren and Lee as monsters. In fact, we think that whether this “ethical cannibalism” search of Maren could also shed light on the carnivorous instinct within us or not. Today, it is considered reasonable to eat animal meat, but perhaps it will not be this reasonable or ethical in the future. Does the lack of a photo of a cow with her family and babies invalidate her family and does it make her relations less valuable? How and when do hunger, instinct, ethics, values and crime intertwine?
Some Things Aren’t for Us to Decide
Throughout the movie, Guadagnino wanted to study how much of our mind and spirit are formed by our human nature and brain chemistry which we can never control. At the same time, he has worked on finding a place for oneself in the sea of exclusion through love that comes from someone else. It is possible to examine love in terms of cannibalism: to love another so much that to want to absorb, consume and destroy -or if you look at the other way, make your loved one live through your own cells-. While Maren tries to find her roots, her mother who gave her life, in order to walk towards the bright side of her nature, Lee accepts the dark side of himself and loves himself as he is. Even though his dark side disturbs Maren and probably the viewer as well, it is the only way to survive. Brutal indeed, but it’s the truth. We mentioned that Maren was feeling uncomfortable with Lee’s predator nature, but if we remember, she has actually found it attractive that Lee could destroy that bad guy in the supermarket without a second thought. So why is it such a problem when a fairground employee with a family is murdered, and not the rude guy at the supermarket? The film contains many moral questions, such as whether we, as humans, are entitled to distinguish between the good and bad, and have the authority to decide whom we are killing, as if we are the creator of humankind.
In the movie, the story is conveyed through Maren‘s father’s audio recordings. We listen to the story piece by piece, spread throughout the film. Accompanying the present of her story, these audio recordings shed light on Maren‘s past and identity. Therefore, we accompany a character on her journey to find herself. Although the story seems interesting and unusual at the beginning, it actually has many clichés. We all know the stories of the vampires who try to suppress their instincts by not harming people -they might be drinking donated blood, who knows?-, and the others who are eviler and more predatory who have fully embraced their instincts. The same goes for Bones and All. Every review we’ve come across about this movie before mentions the story of Bonnie and Clyde, but, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get that vibe. There is bound to be love and affection between Lee and Maren, but this is interestingly more like a “pure” and childlike love than a love that contains sexual hunger and desire. For instance, there was even more sexual attraction between Maren and the girl that she sucked her finger or between Lee and the boy he’s trapped and then ate. Hence there seems to be more of the same sex desire in the movie rather than classical heterosexual desire and love.
A Romantic Body Horror
Bones and All tries to produce body horror in such a deliberate way. Could this nausea reflect the self-alienation, a reflection created in the society because of what you are and who you are? Maybe we can interpret Maren‘s acceptance of eating Lee with “bones and all” as finally making peace with herself? Maybe our nausea will go away when we all accept ourselves as we are… Body horror is a sub-genre of horror movies that usually “showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body” (Wikipedia). According to Sophie Collins (MovieWeb), transgenders feel that body horror movies resonate with their fight to be understood in society even more. Horror movies create in a sense, a platform for transgenders to say that “looking at their own body and trying to alter it” is not a horror movie material at all. Also, it’s worthy of noting that Bones and All is being seen as a queer movie, creating another link between body horror and queer philosophy.
We can say that Bones and All is a successful movie in terms of how it captures the attention of the audience and how it reflects Ronald Reagan‘s ’80s America. But also, many would agree that the last part of the movie was a bit too much and unnecessary. Some movies tell a very simple story, but they do it with such minimalism and depth that the movie gains meaning. Bones and All has a clear and simple story but also there was a feeling of emptiness. Of course, when there are elements such as America, the 80s, hitting the road and being excluded from the society, the movie is definitely gripping, but something didn’t seem to fit right. For instance, Sully‘s re-entry into the film doesn’t feel right. Sully was a good example of how lonely and love-hungry a life of a cannibal can be in the movie and there was no need to make him the villain.
The atmosphere of “us against the world full of evil” was tried to be created in the movie, but sometimes you don’t need to have bad characters to make the audience feel that. In a world full of great people, a person still might feel misunderstood and alone and she/he might find a partner who makes he/she feel the opposite. If that was the case in the movie, that would add more depth to the story, I believe. However, it is necessary to give credit to that unexpected scene at the beginning of the movie (the scene where Maren tries to eat her friend). Another credit goes to the cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan who reflected a very insecure America that seems empty and full of danger for a girl who is still very young in contrast to all movies that created a great, warm, and attractive United States picture. Bones and All, which won the Best Director award in the name of Luca Guadagnino in the main competition of the 79th Venice Film Festival, also won the Best Young Actor – Marcello Mastroianni award for Taylor Russell.