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Bones and All: A Disturbing Yet Insatiable Romantic Horror Film

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Rutgers chapter.

Director Luca Guadagnino’s new film Bones and All, starring Taylor Russell as Maren and Timothee Chalamet as Lee, follows the tale of two vagabond cannibals trying to navigate through their all-consuming desire for human flesh as they wander across the midwest. The film centers upon Maren’s hunger to discover her past, following her journey toward uncovering the mysterious origins of her cannibalistic tendencies. Along the way, she encounters a series of strange characters—all of whom belong to the cannibal community—that leave Maren starving to understand the ethics and morals surrounding her own identity. The more Maren tries to run away from this hunger, the more she runs towards the disturbing truth about who she really is. 

Throughout the film, scenes of gory and violent cannibal feedings intertwine with vibrant and picturesque scenes of winding country roads and passionate late-night kisses. The elements of horror and romance in Bones and All almost seem to blur the lines between reckless instinct and thoughtful intention as we watch Maren and Lee shift between ripping flesh to kissing lips. Maren and Lee’s relationship is unsettlingly alluring, juxtaposing their delicate love with their visceral ravenousness. Underneath all the bloody gruesomeness lies a tender romance—a sweet but sickening one at that. Even as “feeders” (the term used in the film), the innocence and optimism of their young love humanizes their inhumane habits. By journeying together, Maren and Lee strengthen their relationship as they help each other heal from traumatic childhoods, dysfunctional families, and cannibalistic needs.

“You want to be people? Let’s be people.”

-Lee from Bones and All, 2022

In other words, they satiate each other. In spite of their macabre hunger for human flesh, they try to carve out the goodness in their souls. As they travel across the country, Maren and Lee grapple with figuring out how to retain their humanity while maintaining such an unnerving lifestyle. When they initially meet, Maren and Lee address this moral ambiguity quite differently. Despite having the need to feed, Maren attempts to control such impulses and abides by an unspoken set of personal rules. Her feelings of remorse and empathy separate her from many of her fellow “feeders.” She clings for any semblance of normalcy to distance herself from the hunger that lurks inside her. In contrast, Lee follows his instincts with little regard for the consequences, often resulting in careless or irresponsible feedings that provoke Maren to question how to determine right from wrong in such a world.

The dichotomy of their humanistic tenderness and cannibalistic urges creates such a poignant film. This perpetual struggle initiates the introspective journey of self-discovery that follows. As Maren and Lee travel together, Maren in search of her past and Lee hiding away from it, they find that the answers to their questions already exist within themselves. Their relationship grounds the film, adding an insatiable romance to their horrific habits. Each candid car ride conversation and longing look of love compels us to root for this carnivorous couple despite their cannibalistic tendencies. The tension between Maren and Lee gradually leads them to an unfamiliar feeling: the feeling of being loved in such a raw and vulnerable way.

Taylor Russell’s heart-wrenching performance captures Maren’s moral confusion as an eighteen-year-old girl forced to confront the difficulty of being a kind-hearted killer. Although Maren’s character originally comes off as timid and unassuming, Russell conveys Maren’s need for survival and want for goodness to demonstrate her unfailing grit. Even as a solo traveler, Maren held her own; yet, after meeting Lee, Maren gains a better sense of direction—literally and metaphorically. The mistakes and grievances that Maren witnesses from Lee and fellow cannibals prompts Maren to define her identity as a cannibal and the rules that come along with it. The couple meets in the middle ground between Maren’s guilty conscience and Lee’s carefree attitude. By doing so, these two misunderstood lovers find solace in how they complement each other.

“All I think is that I love you.”

-Maren from Bones and All, 2022

Timothee Chalamet artfully portrays Lee’s nonchalant spunk, embodying a scruffy drifter looking to embrace the open road and escape a haunting past. His eccentric outfits, tousled red-tipped hair, and peculiar charm bring vibrance to his character, sparking Maren’s interest in traveling with him. While Lee initially enters the film as a reckless fun-loving wanderer, his character deepens as Maren bonds with him over his troubled family life. Maren compels him to stop and reflect upon his complicated relationship with his mother and sister, who desperately want him home. Like Lee, she does not have a safe place to call home after her father leaves, and she struggles to find her estranged mother. Thus, Maren and Lee take shelter in each other since their connection transcends emotional and physical levels.

Throughout the film, Luca Guadagnino enhances this connection through haunting dialogue and a soothingly sad soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Maren and Lee’s conversations with each other are honest and unguarded, showcasing the rare beauty of finding someone who resonates with you so well. Their talks have a cathartic quality to them. Whether they discuss their troubling childhood memories or complicated moral dilemmas, Maren and Lee grow with the opportunity to speak unfiltered without judgment. Pairing such scenes with slow acoustic guitar strums tugs upon our heartstrings as the stripped-down melancholy tune adds to the film’s poignancy. The stark echoey notes of tracks like “I’m With You (A Way Out)” and “Normal Life” linger between feelings of contentment and uneasiness, illustrating how Maren and Lee always teeter upon the precipice of desire and destruction.

Bones and All offers us an immersive experience into Maren and Lee’s revelatory adventure. Their temptation for human flesh remains almost as strong as their temptation for each other. This twisted coming-of-age romance spirals into a sickening story of love, self-discovery, and morality. The film’s intimate close-up kisses and wide-open sunset skies blend together with jarring jump-scares and gut-wrenching gore to create a disturbing yet insatiable romantic horror masterpiece. And so, Bones and All leaves us craving for more.

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