‘Bones and All’ Explained: Love, Cannibalism, and Identity
Bones and All is a heart-wrenching story about finding true love against all odds. This article explains everything you need to know about this powerful film.
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Bones and All is one of the best modern romantic horror movies. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name, 2018’s Suspiria), it is a dark and beautiful story about finding love and acceptance in a world where you feel like you don’t fit in. Read on to dig deeper into what Bones and All is about, and what it all means. Beware of major spoilers throughout.
What is Bones and All About?
Bones and All is about the love between two young people trying to find their place in the world. In that way, it could be considered a romance more than anything else. However, Bones and All is also a road movie, and it is a cannibal movie. All three of these film genres come together in Bones and All to create one of the most unique and moving horror movies of 2022.
Set in the late 1980s, the film Bones and All is about Maren Yearly, an 18-year-old woman who discovers that she has a powerful compulsion to eat human flesh. After an incident with a friend from school, Maren and her father move far away to avoid the police and start a new life. One morning, Maren wakes up to find her father missing. He leaves Maren an audio tape which explains that Maren has always had a craving to eat people, but her father covered it up to this point. Her father can’t continue things the way they are, so he leaves her on her own now that she is an adult.
Maren doesn’t remember any of the incidents earlier in her life that her father describes on the tape, but the craving she has is real. Maren decides to head out on the road to find her mother who left when Maren was a baby. While on the road, Maren encounters other people with the same cravings as her. She discovers some of these “eaters” are dangerous, but she also finds a connection with an eater named Lee. Lee joins Maren on her journey to find her mother. Along the way, the two lonely outsiders fall in love while struggling to reconcile their troubled lives and the troubling, cannibalistic acts they are compelled to commit on a regular basis.
Bones and All Ending Explained
Towards the beginning of Maren’s travels, she encounters an older eater named Sully. Maren is wary of Sully at first, but, being the first person like her she’s ever interacted with, she goes with Sully when he invites her over to a house for a meal. After they both eat a woman, Sully invites Maren to join him in his travels. Maren has her own plans, and Sully creeps her out, so she leaves without telling him. After that is when Maren meets Lee.
Later in the movie, after Maren leaves Lee when she needs space to figure out her feelings, Sully appears. It turns out Sully has been stalking Maren across multiple states ever since they first met. With Lee gone, Sully takes the opportunity to approach Maren and try to persuade her to join him on the road. With more confidence than before, Maren turns Sully down, wondering out-loud what his true intentions with her are. Angered, Sully insults Maren before speeding away in his van.
At this point in the movie, Sully has gone from weird to menacing. Sully has been on his own for a very long time, and his loneliness combined with his cannibalistic way of life has warped his mind. Sully speaks in the third person almost exclusively, which could suggest that he’s disassociating his actions from his sense of self. Maren picks up on this, and when she calls Sully out for speaking in the third person, he just gets more angry.
In addition to picking up on the red flags for imminent danger Sully is giving, Maren might also see her own future in Sully. Maren often remarks about how she and Lee should feel something about the people they kill and eat. Maren is new to the eater lifestyle, and it scares her when she sees what she perceives as Lee’s lack of empathy after killing. She also sees herself in those moments which terrifies her about her own future. She thinks she should feel more about the people she hurts. If she goes on like this, will she turn out like Sully, disassociating herself from her own actions?
After her latest encounter with Sully, Maren decides to find Lee. The two of them have a real connection, and out of everyone else in the world, they understand each other the best. She finds Lee, and the two of them go back on the road together, eventually settling down for a while to “live like people.” They get an apartment together, they get jobs, and they live normal lives. That is, until Sully finds them.
While Lee is out, Sully waits for Maren in her apartment. Sully attacks Maren, pinning her down on her bed and brandishing a knife. Sully explains that he and Maren have “unfinished business.” He also says he just wanted to be with someone who “understood.” So, like Maren and Lee, Sully was looking for companionship to keep the overwhelming loneliness of being an eater away. At least, Sully was looking for that at some point in his life. Somewhere along the way he got lost. Now his mind is twisted to the point where he doesn’t really know what he wants. All that’s left is a feeling of emptiness and a complete lack of empathy for others. He mistook Maren’s earlier curiousness for some kind of connection, and now he can’t let it go.
While Sully is focused on Maren, Lee enters the apartment. Maren sees Lee, giving her the confidence to tell Sully to stop referring to himself in the third person. Maren knows this will anger Sully, and it might just be the distraction Lee needs to get close. Sully smells Lee (eaters can smell other eaters), but it’s too late. Lee wraps a plastic bag over Sully’s head and pulls him off of Maren. Maren takes Sully’s knife and stabs him repeatedly. Then, after dragging Sully to the bathtub, Maren pulls out some of Sully’s guts as he dies.
In the scuffle with Sully, Lee was stabbed in the chest. The knife punctured Lee’s lungs, and Lee sits dying against the bedroom wall. Maren pleads with Lee to get up so they can go to a hospital, but it’s no use. As Lee dies, he begs Maren to eat him, “bones and all.” For Lee, Maren eating him is an act of love. The ultimate act of love. The act of eating someone bones and all is talked about earlier in the movie by an eater named Jake whom Lee and Maren meet on the road. Going “full bones,” as Jake calls it, is like eating for your first time. There’s life before bones and all, and then there’s life after bones and all.
Lee wants his death to mean something. He can no longer be with Maren, but his final act will be giving Maren a meaningful experience that will shape the rest of her life. Bones and All isn’t just a romantic cannibal road movie, it’s also a coming-of-age film. For Maren, eating Lee bones and all is the moment she truly transitions into the next phase of her life. She will never forget the love she and Lee shared, and that is symbolized by the final shot of the movie: Maren embracing Lee in an open field. In a way, they will always be together.
The Themes of Bones and All
One of the main themes of Bones and All is that of identity. When Maren is compelled to eat her friend’s finger near the beginning of the movie, she begins a journey (both mental and physical) to find herself. She’d suppressed the thoughts and memories of previous instances where she hungered for human flesh, but now she can’t deny that part of herself anymore. She is confused about these feelings, and the abandonment of both of her parents only made things worse.
Maren tries to find her mother in hopes she can help her deal with these unfamiliar feelings, but that journey ends in more pain. Will Maren end up like her mother? Will she end up like Sully? Is there any hope for Maren that things will get better than they are now?
Lee is similarly struggling with identity issues. Lee asks Maren multiple times throughout the film if she thinks he’s a bad person. Lee thinks he has himself together, but even the strange man he meets in the woods, Jake, can see Lee is barely hanging on. In a way, Lee’s journey mirrors Maren’s. Maren was abandoned by her parents, but Lee was forced to deal with his parents’ harmful actions towards him. Maren is searching for her mother with the hope of defining her own identity, but Lee constantly runs away from his own mother (and actively got rid of his father). Maren and Lee are both searching for a connection though, and once they realize that bond they share, they finally find themselves with each other.
Alienation & Loneliness
Running parallel to “identity” is the theme of alienation and the loneliness that comes with it. Maren, Lee, and the other eaters are all different from the rest of society. Eaters are also a rarity, meaning it is difficult for an eater to find someone to talk to about who they are and what they do. The different eaters seen throughout the movie show different sides of what this type of alienation can do to people. In the worst cases, like Sully and Maren’s mother, alienation has twisted their minds. In Lee’s case, he admits that he thought about killing himself before meeting Maren. In all cases, loneliness is shown to have devastating effects.
Love is explored in different ways in Bones and All. For Maren and Lee, they share an all-consuming love. They see themselves in each other. The love of parents for their children is also explored, though mostly through various degrees of harm. Maren’s father abandons her, hoping she can find her way on her own. Maren’s mother also abandons her, but she reveals that she stayed alive just so she could “help” Maren end her life of suffering. The love between siblings is also explored through Lee and Kayla’s tumultuous brother-sister relationship.
Throughout Bones and All, both Maren and Lee are portrayed as sexually fluid. Maren appears to have feelings for her female friend from school, but that desire leads to Maren trying to eat her friend’s finger. Lee seduces a man at a carnival booth and engages in sexual acts with him before killing and eating him. The movie is set in the late 1980s during the moral panic surrounding AIDS and homosexuality, so even if Maren and Lee weren’t cannibals, they could still be ostracized for who they are.
Some analyses make a direct connection between cannibalism and sexual orientation in Bones and All, but the metaphor doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. For instance, the cannibalistic desires eaters have are unavoidably attached to causing direct harm to other people. Sexual orientation is not like that, and it gets messy trying to make that metaphor strictly fit. Though sexual desire does seem to be linked to cannibalism in a few scenes, it’s not always linked.
Director Luca Guadagnino has spoken about his choice to disassociate cannibalism from strictly being a metaphor for intimacy, which is different from the way the novel handles it.
I understand Camille DeAngelis’s idea with Maren that the impossibility relied on the fact that she wouldn’t be able to love without the consequences of destruction. For me, as a filmmaker and for the movie, I was more interested in the possibility of love within the nature of these people.Luca Guadagnino, Mashable.com
However, the idea of otherness does comes through. When you remove the sexual desire part of the metaphor, the idea of being different comes through. Self-loathing, abandonment, hiding your true self, and other negative effects of being different are felt by most of the eaters in the movie. Though not everyone has the same experiences, many have had those experiences.
The Cast of Bones and All
Taylor Russell as Maren Yearly
Maren is an 18-year-old woman who realizes she is different from everyone around her when she tries to eat her friend’s finger. Abandoned by her father, Maren tries to find her mother with the hope that she can answer some of Maren’s questions. Along the way Maren finds Lee, and the two find what they’re looking for with each other.
Timothée Chalamet as Lee
Lee is an eater who meets Maren while she is still early in her journey. Lee has a complicated history with his family and spends a lot of time away from home as a result. He finds a connection with Maren early on in their relationship, but he also sees some of his negative traits magnified during their time together. Lee wants to be a good person, but he isn’t sure if he is one.
Mark Rylance as Sully
Sully is the main antagonist in Bones and All. He is an eater who has spent much of his life alone. Sully no longer knows how to interact with people, or maybe he never knew. He becomes obsessed with Maren and follows her from state to state.
André Holland as Frank Yearly
Frank Yearly is Maren’s father. Frank has a difficult time living with Maren’s compulsions, and he decides it’s better for both of them if he leaves his daughter.
Anna Cobb as Kayla
Kayla is Lee’s younger sister. Kayla loves her brother, but she is scared that he will leave her one day just like she thinks their father left them.
Chloë Sevigny as Janelle
Janelle is Maren’s mother. Janelle voluntarily committed herself to a state hospital when Maren was a baby because she feared what she might do to Maren and Frank.
Jessica Harper as Barbara
Barbara is the adoptive mother of Maren’s mother Janelle. Maren tracks Barbara down in her search for her mother, but Barbara didn’t know of Maren’s existence.
Michael Stuhlbarg as Jake
Jake is an eater who invited Lee and Maren to join them for drinks by a campfire. Jake’s full relationship with Brad is left ambiguous, but Jake introduced Brad to cannibalism. Jake’s intentions in the movie are unclear, but, as an experienced eater, he seems to know more than he shares.
David Gordon Green as Brad
Brad is not an eater, but he does eat people. Maren is disgusted by Brad when she discovers he doesn’t have to eat people, but chooses to do so anyway.
The rest of the main supporting cast:
- Jake Horowitz as Lance, a man who works at a carnival whom Lee chats with.
- Burgess Byrd as Gail, the nurse who looks after Maren’s mother.
- Kendle Coffey as Shelly, Maren’s friend who invites Maren to a sleepover.
- Sean Bridgers as Barry Cook, a rude man in a grocery store.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Bones and All disturbing?
How graphic is Bones and All?
What is Bones and All rated?
What is the story behind Bones and All?
Is the movie Bones and All about vampires?
Why are they cannibals in Bones and All?
Eaters are able to develop certain skills, like the ability to “smell” other eaters, but they are never made out to be explicitly supernatural or superhuman.
The film suggests that the craving for human flesh is something that can be passed down genetically. However, what this means as far as it relates to cannibalism being a psychological or physical need is left ambiguous. The point of the movie isn’t so much on the scientific reasons for the existence of eaters, but instead focuses on the way being an eater affects their lives.
Is Bones and All based on a true story?
Do they eat each other in Bones and All?
Does Bones and All have a happy ending?
The movie ends with Lee dying, which is heartbreaking. But, the movie also ends with Maren coming to a life-changing realization about who she is. Maren has come to accept herself for who she is, and she’s experienced true love for the first time. It’s not necessarily a happy ending for her, but there are good parts about it.
Is Bones and All LGBTQ?
Will Bones and All be on Netflix?
Bones and All was distributed in the United States by MGM, so it will probably go to either MGM+, Paramount+, or Prime Video once it moves to subscription-based streaming. No date has been announced for the move though.