It is difficult to gauge exactly what to expect in a cannibalistic love story starring two of Hollywood’s finest young actors and a director like Luca Guadagnino. Taylor Russell and Timothèe Chalamet, as well as the ensemble of the film, have left critics and audiences stunned by this “unusual” love story that proves to be both “deeply romantic” and “thought-provoking.”
After the film’s U.S. release on Nov. 23, social media was flooded with admiration for the cinematography and performances by both Russell and Chalamet, as well as the fair share of discomfort and backlash for the detailed and graphic depictions of cannibalism.
Based on Camille DeAngelis’ novel “Bones and All,” the romance horror made an attempt at revealing the most basic of human desires through the experiences of young “eaters,” as the protagonists refer to themselves.
The film is a body horror at face value that follows social outcasts, Maren (Russell) and Lee (Chalamet) through a rural summer during the 1980s. However, at its core it is a holistic romance and coming-of-age story that is merely categorized as horror due to the characters’ disturbing habits.
News of Guadagnino’s newest project dropped in January of this year when it was announced that Chalamet and Guadagnino would join forces again following their collaborative work in the 2017 queer drama “Call Me By Your Name.” After much success in his stylistic standout works such as “Suspiria” and “We Are Who We Are,” the latest film proves that Guadagnino is in a league of his own when it comes to integrating his audience into the narrative he creates.
This particular element caught the eye of sophomore TV and film major and theater arts/history double minor, Kristen Umegbolu.
“I admire how [Guadagnino’s] films feel like you’re following the characters through whatever situation the movie takes place in as if you just stumbled across their lives and took a seat because you found it captivating,” Umegbolu said. “For this film, his use of B-roll and incorporation of quieter scenes and moments make it peaceful in a way.”
As unsettling as the idea of cannibalism on screen can be, in true Guadagnino fashion, “Bones and All” creates a tender environment to address the taboo and the overall theme of acceptance. Cannibalism is the subject of the characters’ otherness, but it purposely can’t be overlooked.
Despite the disturbing take, the story plays to the realness of the character’s actions as gently as possible, in a way that the sentiment of the story would have succeeded if cannibalism was replaced with any other socially deviant qualities. Russell and Chalamet achieve the impossible by making their connection charming to watch by depicting the most human aspects of their animalistic characters.
The audience is presented with the connection between Maren and Lee in a series of beautifully personal portrait shots and an endearing dance sequence performed by Chalamet. This follows their first exchange in which Maren learns that Lee is also an “eater,” and her curiosity about this similarity leads her to begin her road trip with him.
On a technical level, the cinematography and sound design further enhance the familiarity between the audience and the story. That shot style presents intimacy between the characters, but also between the narrative and the audience, which is common in Guadagnino’s work. His films are made to feel tactile and sensual without any outright declaration, only well-crafted and ordered shot selection, and this film is no different. It is a sensory-stimulating film shot in 35mm by cinematographer Arseni Khachaturian.
There is also a heavy emphasis on sound, as the instrumental score is meant to uplift the connection between Maren and Lee, contrasted with the overwhelming and disruptive sound effects of eating flesh and bones that leave nothing to the imagination. This is why much of the sensation of the film can be credited to the sound design. Whether it be flies buzzing, or heavy breathing, there is always something that prominently masks the silence of any scene.
Although the film features a stunning collection of talent gathered by Guadagnino, the narrative doesn’t rely so heavily on the actors or their dialogue. With massive sound design and a warming score, there is so much space to sit in the feeling of what is being captured. However, Russell’s magnetic performance is what gives “Bones and All” its edge. Russell perfectly plays to the sensation of feeling unknown and misunderstood, as audiences watch her slowly find comfort and a sense of self through her journey to normalcy. Chalamet, who is becoming an acting giant in his own right, compliments Russell through his bizarre and effective body language that personifies Lee’s amorphousness.
“Bone and All” seems to be in it for longevity, as it is one of those provocative films that require great thought in order to fully digest what has just been watched. By the end of the film, the tenderness and endearment of young love and the horror of the blood on their hands, coupled with the movie’s visual and auditory composition, make it a satisfying, heart-wrenching watch.
Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett