BONES AND ALL. Timothée Chalamet is a cannibal [Review]

Bones and All is a film made by someone who learned about the United States not firsthand, but through pop culture.

Jan Brzozowski

10 November 2022

bones and all

Maren (Taylor Russell) does not have it easy in life. Abandoned as a child by her mother and then by her father, with a handful of banknotes in an envelope, she wanders alone in the United States. She doesn’t feel at home anywhere, changing her place of residence every day. Everything changes when she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet) on her path – a loner similar to her, who has not been abandoned, but has himself abandoned the family home, marked by the presence of a violent alcoholic father. Sound like a cliché, painfully conventional love story? But let’s add a small detail: a monstrous, inexplicable hunger, bubbling up inside the characters; forcing them to commit morally repugnant acts – killing and eating human beings.

Cannibalism actually functions in Guadagnino’s film like a universal disease – hereditary in a way, but not entirely. For it does not affect all descendants of the infected: living proof, for example, is Kayla, the younger sister of the protagonist played by Chalamet. It works a bit like alcoholism – one inherits a tendency to it, at a certain (usually early) stage of life it reveals itself and rebukes a person, at the end of the day it is virtually incurable. However, it can be learned to control it, which, incidentally, becomes one of the main goals of the sensitive protagonist.

bones and all

Guadagnino, with the help of a gamut of colorful and ambiguous characters, presents us with a whole spectrum of approaches to the central problem, which in his film is the chronic need to consume human flesh. Various methods of dealing with it or the opposite. Lee reduces remorse by only hunting loners who behave unpleasantly towards other members of society. Speaking of himself in the third person, Sully, on the other hand, is a case of a person who has been driven to the complete margins of society by cannibalism, leading to a complete decomposition of his personality. Mark Rylance was brilliantly cast in this role – usually an amiable old man from the neighborhood, here just pretending to be one. At an even further pole are the characters played by Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green. American cannibal-rednecks, appearing only in a brief but highly expressive episode – perhaps the best part of the entire film. Stuhlbarg then delivers a superbly written monologue (which echoes, in a particularly twisted way, the fatherly monologue from Call Me By Your Name), orbiting the title issue of eating a man’s “bones and all”. Life, the man states, is divided into a period before and after the act. There is nothing in between. Everything is listened to by his companion, who, as the only one in the entire film, is a cannibal by choice: he feels no physical attraction to human flesh, but kills and eats for pure psychological pleasure. It’s a shame that Guadagnino ultimately entrusted this role to the director of the last three installments of Halloween, and not to Armie Hammer.

Mix of genres

Although Bones and All is not the first all-English-language project in the oeuvre of the creator of I Am Love (here the primacy palm goes to A Bigger Splash) it is certainly the project most steeped in broadly defined “Americanness.” And I do not mean here only that the Italian, following the author of the novel which the movie is based on, sets the action of his film in the American wilderness, ordering characters to traverse successive states in a clapped-out pick-up truck. Guadagnino goes a step further, creating a kind of genre mix, in which the main element turns out not to be horror, but road cinema: one of the most popular and distinctive conventions of independent cinema from overseas. So Russell and Chalamet’s characters stop at backwater diners, attend local festivals, score the obligatory kiss on top of a Ferris wheel – in the meantime looking inside themselves and wrestling with an illness that prevents them from leading fully normal lives. They are a bit like textbook beatniks and hippies, free spirits roaming the United States in search of new experiences, and a bit like cannibalistic Bonnie and Clyde: young, beautiful, dangerous. It’s clear as day, and there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, that Bones and All is a film made by someone who learned about the United States not firsthand, but through pop culture – mythologizing certain spaces, props, patterns of behavior.

bones and all

Problematic and unsuccessful, however, is the ending itself, in which Guadagnino presses the gas pedal to the max, punches a hole in the worn-out suspension of a pickup truck and scrubs the asphalt with his bare foot. The final twist, played out to the rhythm of a gripping home invasion, transforms suddenly into kitsch of the highest order, challenging all those who managed to maintain their seriousness during the last few minutes of the Suspiria remake. It may not be so easy here, as evidenced by the giggles echoing around the room (including mine), an expression of the embarrassment into which the film’s finale puts the viewer. Suffice it to say that it could easily serve as a visual backdrop for the song “Love Cannibal”.

And while I would have preferred Guadagnino to have ended his film a few or even a dozen minutes earlier, sparing us this dubious pleasure, I can’t say that Bones and All didn’t give me a viewing pleasure. The Italian’s latest work is like a hearty feast, within which everyone should find something for themselves – whether you’re an admirer of original genre mixes, the work of Luca Guadagnino, the beauty and talent of Timothée Chalamet or the taste of human flesh.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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