Luca Guadagnino’s latest film “Bones and All” is an odd mix of two very different things which somehow work together fairy well despite lots of disparity between them. On one hand, we have a gory and disturbing coming-of-age tale associated with cannibalism. On the other hand, we have a tender and sensitive love story packed with a surprisingly amount of lyricism. Although the overall result is rather jarring as often swinging back and forth between these two contrasting parts, the movie is still interesting to watch thanks to its good mood, storytelling, and performance, and I admire how it manages to strike a right balance in the end.
In the beginning, the movie, which is supposedly set in US in the 1980s, introduces us to its adolescent heroine and her unspeakable nature. Like her mother who left a long time ago, Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) was born with a cannibalistic urge inside her, and her father Frank (André Holland) has tried his best for preventing his daughter from getting into any trouble because of that, but, alas, she inadvertently causes another trouble when she goes out to spend some time with other girls. As a result, Maren and Frank have no choice but to leave their latest residence as soon as possible, and then we see them settling in some other place far from there.
On one day, Frank is suddenly disappeared probably because he thinks he cannot possibly have his dear daughter and her horrible urge under control anymore, and he left two things for Maren before leaving her. One of them is an envelope containing some money and her birth certificate, which incidentally gives her a clue to where she may can find her mother. The other one is a cassette tape, on which he poured lots of personal thoughts and feelings on her and their difficult father and daughter relationship.
Because she is 18 now, Frank believes that his daughter can take care of herself as well as her cannibalistic urge, but Maren soon comes to realize how vulnerable she can be. It turns out that there are other people who are also inherently cannibals just like her, and she happens to come across one of such people in the middle of her journey to her mother’s hometown in Minnesota. That figure in question is an old man named Sully (Mark Rylance in his most unnerving mode), and he shows her some kindness and compassion as a fellow cannibal, but Maren cannot help but feel disturbed by how creepy he is in many aspects. He usually puts some chilling distance between himself and those unfortunate victims of his, and that bothers Maren a lot even though she cannot resist an offer to eat his latest victim along with him.
As Sully told her, cannibals can smell a lot from each other, and that is how Maren comes to sense a lad named Lee (Timothée Chalamet) not long after getting away from Sully. While he is not so willing to befriend her, Lee lets himself accompany Maren just because he has no particular direction in his ongoing wandering at present, and, of course, it does not take much time for them to develop certain mutual feelings between them as they share their common repulsion about their cannibalistic urge.
Nevertheless, they still find themselves driven by their cannibalistic urge, and the movie does not pull any punch when they follow that without any hesitation at one point. They feel guilty when they get to know a bit more about their victim later, and they become all the more remorseful as discerning how they cannot help themselves no matter how much they try.
In the meantime, the movie allows them to have some quiet peace as they drive by one wide landscape after another, and that may take you back to those lyrical moments of Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” (1973), which is also about one dangerous young couple wandering here and there among vast landscapes. Along with his cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan, Guadagnino, who is no stranger to visual lyricism as shown from his previous films “I Am Love” (2009) and “Call Me by Your Name” (2017), vividly presents a series of stunning landscape shots on the screen, and that further accentuates how desperately Maren and Lee hold each other in their isolated status.
The movie also depends a lot on the low-key chemistry between its two lead performers, and they show admirable commitment as their characters go back and forth between horror and romance. While Taylor Russell, who previously drew our attention for her wonderful supporting performance in Trey Edward Shults’s “Waves” (2019), is convincing in her character’s gradual growth along the story, Timothée Chalamet, who already collaborated with Guadagnino in “Call Me by Your Name”, humbly complements his co-star without overshadowing her, and their good performances support the film well even when it stumbles more than once during its last act.
Around Russell and Chalamet, a number of various notable performers come and go as having each own moment to shine. André Holland, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Harper, Chloë Sevigny, and Mark Rylance are dependable as usual, and David Gordon Green, who is mainly known for his directorial works such as “George Washington” (2000) and “Joe” (2013), surprises us as holding his own place pretty well besides Stuhlbarg during their brief but undeniably insidious appearance.
Overall, “Bones and All” is certainly not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but it is another engaging film from Guadagnino at least, and I recommend it with some caution. As far as I remember, I winced more than once during my viewing, but I kept watching it with enough interest and care, and that says a lot about its effectiveness.
Pingback: 10 movies of 2022 – and more: Part 2 | Seongyong's Private Place