by Fionna Farrell
Just like the stars at its helm, the first shot of Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is rather comforting, and rather pretty. Midwestern bucolic stretches past the horizon, our eyes growing accustomed to a place where life is still—life is tender. Sounds of yearning and hunger get lost in the silence, caught by the wind. But if you listen long enough, you’ll still hear them — and feel, and smell. The film is a multisensory experience, for the character and the viewer.
The thorny question thus pains me: why, then, is the Italian director’s new film so…boring? I found myself wondering this as I exited the theater that fated Black Friday night, attempting to reckon with the disappointment bubbling inside me, which I hadn’t so profoundly felt since last year’s Licorice Pizza. (Although, for that latter film, my heart has greatly softened over time.) If tedious and morally ambiguous, Paul Thomas Anderson’s work is at least always interesting. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same for Guadagnino now. His cannibal romance is not that morally ambiguous — a barely-adult girl eats a finger within the first five minutes. It’s also just not that interesting.
For those who haven’t been made privy to the gut-churning TikTok ads over the past month, Bones and All, Guadagnino’s seventh feature film, follows two disenfranchised (cannibal) teens on a sumptuous journey through backroads America. Maren, played by the quietly formidable Taylor Russell, has been abandoned by her father, after her craven “urges” have proven too much for him. Fueled by the hope of one day finding her mother — just like River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho — she coasts across the country, as if, by fate, to meet Lee, who is also a cannibal, and who is also played by a rugged, pink-haired Timothee Chalamet.
It is not an unpromising premise, this grisly B-horror, slash-road movie, slash-maudlin YA sap-fest. However, the central problem to Bones and All is not so much what it’s about, but, rather, its eagerness to show us what it's about. As alluded to earlier, Guadagnino is by no means shy about inducing the wretched c-word; advertisements for the film beckon us to wonder whether we like the smell of “it.” “It” is an “acquired” taste. Both Maren and Lee are not cannibals by choice, but rather “eaters” by birth; while Maren faces the occasional wave of moral reckoning for the…er…pain she’s caused, Timnothee Chalamet’s character is basically unbothered by his condition. The first time the couple talk about their “first” time, the latter exudes high school senior energy warning the freshman about the ropes. And this, more so than any devouring of the flesh, is by far the most cringeworthy part of the movie.
I don’t place the sole blame on Guadagnino for Bones and All’s shortcomings, though (even if, after 2018’s Suspiria remake, I sure would like to). After giving the film proper time to marinate in my psyche, and recuperating from the mental image of bloodsoaked Timmy T in a fedora, I can’t help but remember what it is I initially found so irritating about the film —- long before I had even seen it. I think the real-life cannibal, Mr. Armie Hammer, should definitely stay put selling timeshares on the Cayman islands. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I really, really wanted a sequel to Guadagnino’s gorgeous Call Me By Your Name. When told that we were getting a cannibal movie instead, I definitely felt no less heartbroken than Mr. Chalamet in the final scene of the aforementioned movie.
Because why does everything have to be about goddamn cannibalism now? Why can’t we get a cathartic Sufjan Stevens cry and mild pedophilia like the good old days? Bones and All is only the most recent addition to a string of cannibal-themed media released within the past year, media that seems to have overtaken our formerly more respectable sensibilities. To mostly everyone’s knowledge, there was the Ryan Murphy Netflix series about that one unspeakable Gemini. One might recall Hulu’s recent film Fresh, where Sebastian Stan galivants around with a severed leg like the whore for flesh he is. Just over a month ago, The Menu was released, causing us to cast a skeptical eye over the contents of Ralph Fiennes’s walk-in fridge. Cannibalism — with a hopelessly unshakeable in-your-faceness — has now become trendy for some reason. Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I do wonder what’s next for us.
Like many, my first ever “cannibal” movie was the completely un-overrated The Silence of the Lambs. Although, it does feel a bit blasphemous to reduce Demme’s masterpiece to such a limiting, and pretty inaccurate, title. The Silence of the Lambs is not “about” cannibalism at all, but rather utilizes Dr. Lecter’s tasteful proclivity to add infinite layers of intrigue and depth to his character, erupting in shimmers of brilliance throughout his twenty-four minutes of screen time. Lecter’s habit is not reduced to a random or inexplicable urge, but it is rather an appendage of his persona, and the one guiding element around which all of his relationships are formed. He is a decadent man, with his three piece suits, high-ceilinged office, and taste for the finer things in life.
There are several other cannibal-adjacent films that I enjoy, and I won’t gross the reader out by listing all of them. But, to mention one of the more important ones, Peter Greenaway's sublimely disgusting The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover reigns at the top. Again, that film is not about cannibalism, per se, but rather builds towards the act with superlative tension and attention to atmosphere. The whole movie is brimming with a political furor that used to make “cannibal” films so subversive. Now, it seems that they are no more than lazy reductions of some of the most outward problems of our culture.
Fresh, of course, was about how horrible dating apps are. The Menu — which might not actually be about cannibalism, but sure wants us to think it is — is about how horrible fine dining is. Bones and All is about…how horrible it is to be a teenager and not fall in love with Timothee Chalamet? I hate to be as reductive about these movies as these movies are about genuine cultural conflicts, but if there’s anything that can be said about the new upsurge in flesh-ophilia, it’s that it’s quickly becoming a painfully obvious mockery of itself — a pastiche of former films that actually had something important to say, or, at least, interesting people to show us. At this point, we've become desensitized to casual dismemberment ads popping up on our timelines. What is the horror, and where is the grotesque fun, to these films anymore when they no longer have the capacity to leave us guessing? When, in these universes, being a flesh-eater is just a few rungs short of something you can put in your Insta bio? It’s high time that our rebellious whims found a different sort of nourishment for the time being — and that, maybe, the next cannibal movie won’t star someone like Tom Holland.