Bones and All: cannibalism as love

"Bones And All" Photocall In Milan
"Bones And All" Photocall In Milan / Stefania D'Alessandro/GettyImages

Bones and All may be the best horror romance I've ever seen, granted I've seen very few. Luca Guadagnino who also directed Call Me By Your Name and Suspira, nails the darker side of humanity, something so taboo and rarely touch upon in media. Cannibalism has been seen in other films such as Green Inferno, Raw, and who can forget the classic, Silence of the Lambs? In my opinion this one stands out against the rest. Bones and All isn't your traditional horror movie but rather a slow burn full of disturbing imagery and a tragic love story. Minor spoilers ahead!

The movie follows Maren newly 18, who seems to lead a normal life until she's invited to a sleep over. Maren and three other girls from school are painting each others nails, typical of a sleep over until Maren de-gloves her fellow classmate's finger. Maren immediately runs back home to her dad who is not surprised by the blood dripping from her mouth, instead telling her to pack her things. They move cities once again, almost as if it's routine. Maren wakes up the next day to find her dad gone and only a cassette tape left behind. On this tape her dad explains why he had to leave her and details Maren's life from her first time as an eater at the age of 3.

Maren decides she wants to find her mother who left her when she was just a child. On her journey she meets Sully, an interesting character to say the least. He claims he can smell her from miles away, telling her that eaters can identify one another by smell alone. She follows him back to learn more about what it means to be an eater. Sully explains that each eater must have a set of rules (morals to follow), his rules included not eating a fellow eater. Maren stays and even feeds before deciding she can’t trust Sully and is even frightened by him so she decides to leave him behind. As she gets closer to finding her mom she runs into another eater, Lee (Timothée Chalamet) surprise surprise he’s also an eater. Maren and Lee start a friendship traveling and feeding together. When Maren finally reaches her mom it’s not what she expected. Her mom is in a mental asylum having checked herself in as a way of protecting herself from Maren. Her mom even ate her own hands and tried to attack Maren saying she is better off dead. 

Maren spirals from the interaction into her own moral dilemma, feeling bad for giving into her need to eat people. Lee does not share the same sentiment, saying there isn’t a lot of choice for them. They separate for a while allowing Maren to be on her own, but she eventually seeks Lee out again. The two of them decide to be “people” and live as normal as they possibly can. In the most intense final act Sully finds Maren again and ruins the normal life she so desperately wanted.

Taylor Russell, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Luca Guadagnino, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Kajganich
AFI Fest 2022: Special Screening "Bones And All" / Tibrina Hobson/GettyImages

Bones and All falls under the horror category based on the graphic violence that occurs as well as the subject matter. However, at its core the movie is a romance. Despite the fact that Maren and Lee killed people, you can’t help but root for them. The two of them share many touching moments that amount to a beautiful young love. Major spoilers ahead! In the final act Sully stabs Lee in the lung, Maren tries to save him but knows it’s way too late for him. With his final breath he begs Maren to eat him as a way to be with her forever. She refuses at first but eventually gives in. The scene is quite emotional and somehow deeply romantic. Cannibalism has been used as a metaphor for love/intimacy in many forms of media, but I think it’s the most prevailing theme in this movie. Maren normally feeds as a means of survival, satiating the darker part of herself, but in the end she only eats Lee out of all consuming love. 

Bones and All is actually based on a book by Camille DeAngelis, but Luca Guadagnino put his own touch on the movie, spinning the plot. In the book Lee actually attacks Maren at the end and she eats him to defend herself. The book is not as romantic as the movie, but the book centers around Maren as she comes of age and how it feels to be an outcast in society. I’ve seen theories that Bones and All is a metaphor for being gay in the 80’s and how it feels to be on the outside, to feel different from others. 

Do you think Bones and All is about all consuming love or rather what it meant to be gay in the 80’s?

Next. Shudder: Argento, Cemetery Man and Joe Bob bring the love (of horror) in February. Shudder loves to bring us great horror each month, old and new, and February is no exception to the rule. We are getting an all-new Joe Bob Valentine special, a documentary on the legendary Dario Argento and a host of classic slashers from the 1980s…plus a lot more. dark