In Bones and All, the ashen, pixie-faced Timothée Chalamet is Lee, a mysterious runaway whose need for a fix (the cannibalistic eating of human flesh) pairs him with 18-year-old Maren. Played by the lovely Taylor Russell, Maren has learned to be secretive, driven by a compulsion that alienates her from her school cohort and only further exacerbates the shame of living in poverty with her single dad. Like Romeo and Juliet through the lens of horror author Stephen King or musician-director Rob Zombie, Maren and Lee are lovelorn teenagers, both fated to be together and doomed to bring each other to a dismal, grisly end.
As hungry teenagers with insatiable appetites, there is an inevitable sexual frisson to Lee and Maren’s cannibalistic natures. They desperately crave human flesh—bones and all—but they know it is craven and unorthodox. The synopsis of Bones and All may not scream “watch me!” to everyone because superficially, it’s a movie about teenage cannibals in the 1980s. At its heart though, it’s a story about love, alienation, societal demands versus personal values, and the need to be seen by at least one person who understands that we are who we are, not monsters, but not normal, either.
Through director Luca Guadagnino’s compassionate, inquisitive perspective (he also directed the TV series We Are Who We Are), he captures all the magnetism, gruesomeness, allure and ferocity of these two bedeviled protagonists. In Bones and All, there is a fantasy unfolding. Isn’t it every teenage dream to fall into a dramatic, lusty love affair and escape the monotony of school and family life in a beat-up, beautiful old Chevy?
The silver screen has explored the teenage runaway fantasy for decades and, to be more precise, teenage delinquents with a murderous appetite: alienated adolescents gone wild, the epic landscape and endless highways that open up once the rubber hits the road. It’s an ideal lens to view adolescence through; a seemingly infinite series of intersecting roads in which young men and women work out what their moral values are and embrace their own quirky traits and each other’s, all while venturing through unexplored terrain physically and metaphorically.
Holly (Sissy Spacek) and Kit (Martin Sheen) went on a hell-raising, murderous road trip in the 1973 movie Badlands. Upping sticks from her shambolic South Dakota home, 15-year-old Holly departs her father’s home (her mother had died of pneumonia years earlier) with Korean War veteran Kit, a 25-year-old garbage collector. After killing Holly’s father, the duo set out for the Badlands of Montana, trigger-happy and hightailin’ it from the law.
Over a decade later, Heathers took many of the same elements of a murderous mayhem-meets-teen road-trip movie and twisted them into a fantastically warped coming-of-age narrative. The 1988 cult classic introduced us to the alienated outcast J.D (Christian Slater) and (wonderfully) bad girl Veronica (Winona Ryder), bonded through their outsider status and the burning desire for revenge on the Heathers (yes, three girls named Heather). Viewers may recall Veronica’s droll admission once the bloodshed in high school is beyond all control: “Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit has a body count.” It was a gothic fairy tale of sorts, a dark comedy of the bleakest nature.
In Bones and All, Lee and Maren’s “teen angst bullshit” also lead to a very gory body count. In any other director’s realm, this film might have turned into a sensational, bloody Halloween affair, but it doesn’t, owing to the deeply sensitive, romantically minded Guadagnino. The Italian director has more than proven his compassionate rendering of adolescence in all its awkward, gorgeous blundering, not least in Call Me By Your Name, also starring Chalamet (and that peach scene) and We Are Who We Are. In the latter, he follows the troubled, lovelorn teenager Fraser (played by Jack Dylan Grazer) and the repressed, curious, sexually ambiguous Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamon) to a nostalgic, trippy R’n’B soundtrack by Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange).
Likewise, it is the direction of Gregg Araki and his genuine love for his characters that elevates the 90s-era Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy from kitschy, queer sex-horror curios to love stories with a layered, intelligent socio-political message. The series began with Totally Fucked Up, ended with Nowhere and with The Doom Generation in the middle and my personal favorite. The 1995 indie film, which debuted at Sundance Film Festival, opened with James Duval (playing character Jordan White) and Rose McGowan (as Amy Blue) slam dancing in a goth-punk club to the thundering industrial beat of Nine Inch Nails. As they depart in their beaten-up car, stocked with cigarettes and fast food, Xavier Red’s body slams down on their windscreen mid-brawl. Desperate to escape his brawny attackers, he leaps into the car and demands the couple take him with them. There’s sex, gory death, and brilliantly sarcastic one-liners: “Sometimes I feel like the city is sucking away at my soul,” admits Amy; or later, “My mom used to be a heroin addict, now she’s a Scientologist.”
Maybe the Chevy in Bones and All is an acquired taste. Still, the dual desires to spend all our waking moments with our lover and the liberation from the obligations of study, work and grinding through survival speak to the experience of most teenagers. Bones And All is the latest, and by far the most memorable, to depict alienated, lustful teenage devotion through a story of runaway delinquents. That we must sculpt an inner and outer persona that morphs and shapes to our innermost desires while also operating within the framework of a moral and opinionated society is—in a way—a lesson all of us solitary-natured people learn whether on the road or not.
Bones and All is in cinemas now.
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