Upcoming Film: BONES AND ALL (Notes from Director Luca Guadagnino)

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by Tony Frankel on October 3, 2022

in Film

YOU’LL FEEL THIS DOWN TO YOUR BONES

From Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) comes a love story as sublimely tender as it is dark and uncanny, a road trip of discovery between two American misfits who share a fierce, all-consuming appetite that sets them apart and sends them on the run, even as they long to find a home where they can belong. Bones and All opens in theatres November 23, 2022 from MGM/UA. It’s a story of first love between Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee (Timothée Chalamet), an intense and disenfranchised drifter; a liberating road odyssey of two young people coming into their own, searching for identity and chasing beauty in a perilous world that cannot abide who they are.

Their renegade journey begins in the 1980s with young Maren, born with a secret, and driven by an inexplicable hunger outside all normal human bounds. Unable to be like others, moving from town to town, she has long felt like an irredeemable outcast. When her heartbroken father decides he can no longer help her, Maren has no choice but to head out on her own. Then she discovers she is not alone. There are others like her. Others who know this same overpowering need. Others like Lee, a small-town rebel who helps her survive, who grows ever closer to her, who sees beyond her forbidden desires, even as they become dangerously vulnerable to one another.

Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of BONES AND ALL

Though their condition is one of chilling horror, Guadagnino takes the story of Maren and Lee well beyond the confines of genre. Their cravings are treated as neither monstrous nor gothic but simply their unavoidable fates. And as the odyssey unfolds, their tale—brought to life in disarmingly emotional performances from superstar Chalamet and rising star Russell — turns into something else: a liberating road odyssey of two young people coming into their own, searching for identity and chasing beauty in a perilous world that cannot abide who they are.

For Guadagnino, the characters’ hunger for flesh, sudden and threatening as it is, was never about breaking taboos for the shock value, but the very opposite: it was about empathizing with those who are lost, those who can’t fit in and must wander on the fringes, those who are thoroughly rejected by society yet accepted by one another. Bones and All, he says, is a film about “about impossible love, about the disenfranchised, and about the dream of finding a home.”

He continues, “It’s a story of two young people finding that there’s no such thing as home for them, so they’ll have to reinvent it. Maren and Lee are searching for their identities under extreme circumstances, but the questions they are asking are universal: who am I, what do I want? How can I escape this feeling of destiny I’m carrying? How can I find connection with someone else?”

The Roots of Bones and All

The deeply humanistic films of Guadagnino, films that seem able to seize the most visceral, indescribable feelings out from the air, have traversed many subjects, though he is perhaps most beloved for his lush, sun-dappled tale of summer love, Call Me By Your Name. Bones and All is also an immersive, youthful romance — yet one forged in an almost opposite world. It is Guadagnino’s first film made in America, and a riff on the American tradition of the transformative road trip. But this is an America with a mythic twist, one in which two people cursed to be “others,” and with no clear future, pursue a shimmering dream of escape and acceptance.

Guadagnino first came upon the story in a screenplay adaptation by one of his favorite writers: David Kajganich, who previously wrote Guadagnino’s romantic comedy A Bigger Splash and his remake of the horror classic Suspiria. The director found himself magnetized by this very different tale, one that left room for more than one interpretation. “David’s scripts are so outside the mold and so organic to human behavior, they are always a treasure. He never second-guesses the audience. Very quickly, I felt myself unconsciously pulled into this world,” says Guadagnino.

That world was inspired by, though different from, Camille DeAngelis’s 2015 YA novel of the same name, which utilized the concept of a teenager born with a genetic need to consume other humans in order to completely disrupt a coming-of-age-story.

Says Kajganich, “As someone who lived a closeted rural, adolescence in the 1980s Midwest, reading Camille’s novel for the first time touched me in an unexpected and bracing way. Too many people know what it is to be cast as the ‘other’ in someone else’s eyes, and adolescence is a time when a lot of this ‘othering’ happens, so the book felt noble to me in trying to articulate something of that experience, but from a completely new vector.”

Taylor Russell (left) as Maren and Timothée Chalamet (right) as Lee

Kajganich homed in on how Maren battles with the deeply relatable anxieties of any girl finding her power: with the uncertainties of love and morality, with the mysteries and burdens of the body, with the allure and costs of rebellion, and with the challenges of not only forging a sense of self but the courage to own who you are, no matter how complicated. But in Maren’s case, all these were tied into one overarching problem—whether she could ever get close to anyone at all in defiance of her alarming instincts to devour her loved ones, bones and all.

While writing, Kajganich explains that he spent time “reading about ways young women experience disunity with their bodies, whether that means an eating disorder, body modification, etcetera. I spoke with a lot of my female friends about their adolescences … but I also spent a great deal of time with friends ruminating about what first love felt like for each of us. And because a lot of the insights that informed the script were coming from my friends — whom it is an honor and a duty not to judge–it helped me approach Maren as a kind of friend as well. I felt very close to this character while writing the script and I hope I’ve done my work well enough that young women who see the film will recognize meaningful parts of themselves in her.”

For Guadagnino, it was all the characters Kajganich drew — vagabonds, drifters, and lonesome souls leading invisible lives off the beaten path—and not their potent cravings, that inspired most. He saw in it a wide-ranging exploration of difference, of solitude, of unseen America, but especially of what binds human beings together when so much threatens to pull us apart.

“I’m drawn to those who are, maybe willfully, not at the center of things. For me, Bones and All is a story of two people who must live on the margins of the social world,” Guadagnino says. “I never saw it as scary. I wanted people to love these characters, to feel for them, to root for them, and not judge them. I wanted them to see in Maren and Lee a cinematic reflection of all the possibilities that build us as people.”

Taylor Russell (left) as Maren and Timothée Chalamet (right) as Lee

Kajganich was not surprised to find Guadagnino so aligned with the themes of his screenplay and could not wait to see where he took it on the screen. “I thought this story could really be emboldened by Luca’s unflinching attitudes about desire and identity, and it absolutely was,” the writer says. “I knew he wouldn’t shy away from the script’s insistence on inviting audiences to begin their relationships with Maren and Lee in tough, even appalling, contexts, before starting to move closer and closer to them on the unexpected ground of a young love story. Luca isn’t afraid of anything on the page, except perhaps untruths.”

The cannibalism of it all didn’t strike Guadagnino as a provocation, more an atmosphere. He notes that the eating of flesh and blood has long been a religious and literary metaphor. But he decided to approach the characters’ unsettling appetites as simply a fact of their lives, a requirement as real and pressing as sleep. More importantly, it’s a malady that imposes fear, shame, compulsion, and prejudice, rendering them outcasts, and forcing them to confront, constantly and palpably, the primal side of human nature, the damage we’re all capable of. When they feed, Guadagnino emphasized that it is “difficult and sad for them,” necessary and satiating, but always leading to regret.

That only adds to realism. “This is a story of people who are subjected to a certain condition that they can’t control, and that is something that can suggest many other conditions,” Guadagnino reflects. “But, from the beginning, I simply believed in the existence of these people. And I wanted the audience to also believe in their existence without bringing in any elements of the fantastic.”

This is exactly how Kajganich hoped the story would come to cinematic life, not as a hazy fairy tale but unmistakably of our everyday world. “Cinema is a language for empathy, so I always bet on an audience’s emotional intelligence. And while I don’t think of this as a horror film, per se, without our being visually candid about the basis on which someone might at first ‘other’ these characters, there would be much less of a curve of empathy for the audience,” he says of the eating. “I wanted the audience to have the opportunity to feel genuine disgust along with whatever genuine love I hope they will develop for these characters.”

Always drawn to strong women characters, Guadagnino endeavored to unpack the rich complexity of how Maren, not quite an adult, approaches her unwanted destiny. She never just accepts her impulses, but grapples at every turn with the ethical conundrum of not being able to get out of this life without harming others. He was interested in the fact that she not only tries to come to terms with who she is but goes a step further — pushing against the boundaries of who she might be, inside a reality that wants to confine her, that wants to cut off her choices, that makes her unsafe.

“I always saw Maren as a wanderer and a seeker in the great tradition of American literature,” the director explains. “She has the iconic quality of someone who becomes an agent of discovery—yet with the specificities of being an isolated, disenfranchised young girl in the 80s.”

The wandering element of the story was also key to Kajganich. “The road can be a catalyst, an accelerator of growth, and is mythical for that reason. The hidden structures of one’s identity become more visible on the road, when your points of reference are changing by the minute.”

Equally, the project presented a gift to Guadagnino: the chance to reunite with Chalamet, who he knew beyond a doubt had the ability to channel Lee’s mix of innocence and turbulence, while making the tale feel part of our times. “We had such a beautiful experience on Call Me by Your Name and since then, I’ve watched the blooming of Timothée’s path in cinema, of his wonderful persona,” he says. “I said right away, I will do this film so long as Timothée does it. He loved the script, so we began to work on it together with David to allow certain elements to shine even more.”

He was also exhilarated by the idea of filming as an outsider in parts of the USA he’d never seen before, and to recreate an 80s America. “The 80s were a time of great contradictions,” he observes, “when parts of the American economy were booming yet others were impoverished, when optimism was soaring, but some were left out of the picture. I felt the period paralleled the internal contradictions of these characters, their quest for settlement and also the impossibility of such.”

One thing Guadagnino refused to do was to lend Maren and Lee so much as a trace of satire or sarcasm. He held the characters through every frame of the film with the most tender regard, a striking choice. “There is no cynicism in the movie,” Guadagnino affirms. “It is devoid of it. And that was possible only because Taylor, Timothée and all the cast committed to be so very human.

For me, the satirical and the cynical can too easily become a blanket to cover up things and for this film I wanted a different kind of gaze. I wanted to be totally truthful to Maren and Lee’s emotions.”

photos by Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

CAST (in order of appearance)

SherryKendle Coffey
MarenTaylor Russell
Maren’s FatherAndré Holland
JackieEllie Parker
KimMadeleine Hall
Attendant (Corlis, MD)Christine Dye
SullyMark Rylance
LeeTimothée Chalamet
Barry CookSean Bridgers
KaylaAnna Cobb
BradDavid Gordon Green
JakeMichael Stuhlbarg
Booth ManJake Horowitz
Boy playing Ball TossMarshall Jackson
Clerk (MN Gas Station)Marcia Dangerfield
Barbara KernsJessica Harper
Gail the NurseBurgess Byrd
JanelleChloë Sevigny
Mechanic (NE Gas Station)Max Soliz

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