Jesus said, “Take, eat, for this is my body,” at the Last Supper. I recalled this line while reading Piers Paul Read’s book about the Andes plane crash survivors in 1972, and I remembered it again while watching Luca Guadagnino’s new movie, which was adapted by screenwriter David Kajganich from the YA best-seller by Camille DeAngelis, though there isn’t quite the same kind of miraculous change in this In addition to being a ghastly horror film, Bones and All is also an emo journey in repulse, a story of young and forbidden love, and a parable for that horrible secret idea that permeates everyone’s mind during their adolescent years: I am different.
We are nearing the end of the Reaganite 1980s, a time without the surveillance and DNA technologies that, in the present, may have undermined the realism of this movie. Maren is portrayed by Taylor Russell. She is a quiet, intelligent child who has just started school and lives on the edge of poverty with her harried father (André Holland). When she accepts an invitation to a sleepover from one of her new pals, Maren is so excited by the atmosphere of steamy, girlish intimacy that she bites off and eats someone else’s finger.
Maren is actually a cannibal, and for years, she and her father have been on the run due to their awful addicted compulsion. Maren embarks on a quest to find her mother in order to learn more about her and the reasons behind her actions after her father deserts her on her 18th birthday. Along the way, she discovers that there are other covert cannibals, “eaters” or “feeders,” who refer to themselves as “one of us” in a manner reminiscent of Tod Browning’s classic Freaks. They live by the rule that they should never eat one of their own, and it is from them that Maren learns about the cannibal experience at its most extreme—eating a person altogether, down to the bones.
Timothée Chalamet, who portrays Lee in his delicate, cheekbones-and-all flair, will play the wiry, frail, and gorgeous runaway with whom Maren will fall in love. Maren is horrified by what Lee is willing to do to obtain his dose and by what she learns about her mother, even if there is no possibility of refraining from sex between them, unlike Bella and Edward in Twilight. She and Lee are able to coexist in society, but there is a terrible undercurrent to their carnivore romance: a frightening old “eater” named Sully, played by Mark Rylance, who initiates Maren into the cannibal lifestyle and has greater gourmand designs.
Guadagnino’s brilliance is to shock us with this crazy lunacy and still sell it to us, to persuade us to believe Lee and Maren are outlaw victims of fate, like Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Lee and Maren’s cannibalism has something weirdly innocent about it.
The cannibalism shown in Bones and All is quite different from Hannibal Lecter’s, which is far more cynical and materialistic. It’s also not just a cheekily-created YA metaphor for disobedience, marginalization, and contrarian identity politics for a young readership that has undoubtedly embraced vegetarianism. Additionally, it discusses homelessness and poverty, as well as the brutality of survival and the hidden humiliation of a particular type of hunger that persists even after survival. Bones And All is a lavish and spectacular film that is horrifying, obscene, and shocking in its twisted romantic idealism.