Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal romance stars a never-prettier Timothée Chalamet as an anthropophagite with attitude. The spindleshanked heart-throb looks particularly scrumptious as he sits in a blood-spattered bath, watching his GF greedily scoop out a man’s innards.
During and after this movie my brain felt scrambled and I wanted to be sick. I have no wish to see it again. But, (count those stars) it’s an absolute triumph, every bit as gripping as Guadagnino’s last collaboration with Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name.
Taylor Russell, so fantastic in Waves, is hypnotic as Maren, the resourceful 18 year-old whose father (André Holland) deserts her when he realises her prediliction for human flesh isn’t a passing phase. It’s the late 80s and she heads off to Minnesota, in hopes of touching base with the mother she’s never known. On the way, she meets Kentucky drifter, Lee (Chalamet; drowsy with desire), and other fellow travellers, including lonely, icy-eyed nomad, Sully, and shrewd, horribly-elated hick, Jake (Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg; both perfect).
These old hands have wisdom to pass on to the youngsters. They seem proud to belong to the cannibal club. But Maren hates her urges. She’s also disgusted when one of Lee’s gay victims turns out to have a wife and children. Maren has rules: it’s ok to off queers, but family guys are off limits!
Bones and All can’t be read as a simple allegory. When the central characters talk about feeding, they sound strikingly like closeted gay men from another era, furtively sharing their passion, with that potent mixture of excitement and shame. But their need to feed is also likened to drug addiction (Jake calls Lee a “junkie”) and linked to genetics (both Maren and Lee have inherited their cravings from a parent). Lee compares his post-dinner self to a pumped-up super-hero.
The fluid screenplay, though, never gets bogged down in its own metaphors. The characters, who are too three-dimensional to pin down or easily judge, simply hurtle onwards, adding new layers to the story. In a slaughter-house, Maren muses on the fact that all cows have family and maybe even friends. The question hangs in the air: isn’t all flesh-munching reprehensible and repulsive?
Three quarters of the film is Paris Texas serene. The cinematography is fuzzy and naturalistic. The soundtrack offers languid bouts of guitar, punctuated by groovy hits from the likes of Joy Division and Kiss. Big chunks of Bones and All, in other words, take us to indie-road-movie heaven. But I can’t emphasise this enough: all paths lead to hell, with the sublime Chloe Sevigny, in a cameo, pulling off a twist worthy of Tod Browning’s Freaks.
Only one actor breaks the spell. Suspiria star Jessica Harper is helplessly cheesy as Maren’s grandmother. As anyone who’s seen Guadagnino’s pretentious and clumsy 2018 homage to Dario Argento’s horror classic will know, Guadagnino is obsessed by Suspiria. It’s like a bone that’s stuck in his throat. Spit it out, man.
But let’s not get sidetracked. Guadagnino’s first US-set movie explores a beautifully toxic kind of hunger and, in the process, rewrites Godard’s formula for great cinema. Kiss kiss pang pang. Maren and Lee are the iconic duo of the year.
In cinemas from November 25