Bones and All: A Study in Romance

Bones and All: A Study in Romance

Annie Boguslavsky, Scoop Writer

There is something beautiful in unorthodox love stories. While a lot of people can get a kick out of gentle, slow love, the most popular and well-known stories are the ones filled with drama, strife and a well-deserved happy ending. It is true that excitement and action can add flair to a romance, but it seems to be that the most important characteristic of a truly sensational love story is the presence of something “ugly” that one or both characters need to surmount. 

Luca Guadagnino’s Bone and All begins with Maren, a young girl, living alone with her dad in a new house and trying to navigate through the social complexity of a new high school in her senior year. On top of all of this, Maren is possessed by an unconquerable, incurable and inexplicable internal urge to eat other people. 

Her proclivities have been the driving factor in her movement from town to town, and after her latest relapse, her father decides that he cannot take care of her anymore. Her father, who has left his last name behind and dropped everything in order to keep Maren out of sight, has suddenly left her with a hundred dollars in cash, her birth certificate and a tape recording. While he cannot protect her anymore, he does her one last favor of explaining her past, as well as her mother’s, who she never knew. Alone for the first time in her life, Maren decides to use the money her dad left her to purchase a bus ticket to the address attached to her mother’s name on her birth certificate, and leaves. 

Early on in her journey, Maren discovers that not only are there others like her, but they are also not rare, or particularly difficult to find. Considering her newfound lack of resources, Maren is forced to accept help from a stranger, Sully, another “eater”. He is careful and calm, taking the time to teach her some things, but is ultimately creepy and prompts Maren to once again set off on her own, where she soon meets Lee.

Lee, the other protagonist in this film, is also an “eater”, struggling with very similar versions of Maren’s own problems. He has not been run all around the country in an attempt to keep secret, but he struggles with home life and balancing the more problematic part of his identity with his actual life. Finding solace in each other, the two decide to run away.

Throughout their story, the body horror and general gore present earlier in the film slowly becomes more and more irrelevant. While the movie does fall under the category of horror, the romance between the two cannibals is the main focus. In this movie, cannibalism is not the shock factor, or the main point, but rather the avenue used to “other” Lee and Maren in their society. Both are freaks, forced to hide and live without a hope of genuine connection, until they meet each other. 

The actors have an incredible chemistry between them that has the effect of humanizing them, despite their dangerous and shameful nature. Even while their identities are built on the horrifying concept of consuming their peers, their romance simplifies them, making them teenagers again. Together, they are not monsters, but simply two kids trying to find their way through the complexities of a relationship. The atmosphere developed by the set, the music, and the actors adds a gentleness to their story, an element of softness and care that helps to develop the genre of romance over horror, despite the abundance of horrific motifs throughout the movie.

While the acting and set design help to develop the romantic atmosphere, the two characters’ outsider status is what gives their love story the weight that attracts audiences. This “ugly” thing that defines them gives the two a common battle, and since they cannot actually win, they simply choose to live with it together. They accept each other not just despite this facet of their identities, but because of it. This is the thing that above all allows the audience to connect and be inspired by their story; at their core, everybody wants to be completely and wholly understood, and loved anyway. The fear of being found disgusting once someone knows you entirely is an overwhelmingly common theme in human nature, and stories that address this fear and offer a happy ending in spite of it prevail and stay known throughout time.

This theme of romance built on the exclusion from society is actually a staple in Luca Guadagnino’s films: in Call Me by Your Name, a similar narrative was created between two men struggling to navigate homosexuality in 1983 Italy. In their story, the shame they felt about their identities brought them closer to each other and the isolation they felt from the rest of the world developed a deeper sense of trust between them – if they could not trust each other, who was left? Bones and All echoes this idea, carrying a potent aura of intimacy and sincerity. Throughout the whole of the film, their connection is built on secrecy and a mutual need for each other based on the rarity of their kind, creating a drama that stories relying on cheating or heartbreak simply cannot compare with.