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AISHA HARRIS, HOST:
The moody drama "Bones And All" is a familiar road trip tale of young, angsty lovers drifting from state to state against the backdrop of breathtaking, wide-open vistas. But the kicker is that the couple are - wait for it - cannibals, and they're on the lookout for their next feeding. Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell star, with Luca Guadagnino directing. It's a strange romance that's oddly best viewed on an empty stomach. I'm Aisha Harris. And today, we're talking about the movie "Bones And All" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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HARRIS: Joining us today is Andrew Limbong. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a reporter for the Culture Desk. Welcome back, Andrew.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Yo, Aisha. What's up? What's up?
LIMBONG: I was eating. I was eating during the movie. I was like, hell yeah.
LIMBONG: I was, like, nomming (ph) along. I was like, mmm.
HARRIS: Brave. Brave, brave choice.
HARRIS: So "Bones And All" is set in the late eighties and stars Taylor Russell as Maren, a cannibalistic teen. After she's abandoned by her dad, Frank, played by Andre Holland. She sets out to find the mother she's never known. En route to Minnesota from Maryland, she encounters other eaters like her for the first time, including the lanky drifter Lee, played by Timothee Chalamet. They fall in love driving across the Midwest in a stolen pickup truck while finding ways to satisfy their hunger. The movie also features Mark Rylance as a super creepy cannibal who takes an uncomfortable interest in Maren, Chloe Sevigny as a woman named Janelle and David Gordon Green and Michael Stuhlbarg as a pair of strangers Maren and Lee meet out in the woods. Luca Guadagnino directs. You may recall he previously worked with Chalomet on the film "Call Me By Your Name." Writer David Kajganic adapted the screenplay from Camille DeAngelis' book of the same Name. "Bones And All" is in theaters now. So, Andrew, you said you were eating during this film. But how did you...
LIMBONG: Yes, I was.
HARRIS: But how did you feel about "Bones And All?"
LIMBONG: OK, I straight up loved it. Going into it - so my wife doesn't, like, deal with, like, scary movies all that well. So I was like, chill, you can skip this one. And I kind of regret it because it's not, like - it's not like, scary, scary, jumpy scary.
LIMBONG: But it was, like, oddly romantic and sweet. I got kind of, like, verklempt at it a couple of times while these, you know, folks are chowing down. It was just, like, an overall, like, fine time at the theater.
HARRIS: So actually, at my screening, three people left the theater about 25 minutes in. And I don't - they never came back.
HARRIS: They were all together. But it was after like the first big eating scene that we see. I was actually expecting more people to perhaps leave. But I also think if you know what to expect going into it, then you're probably going to be fine with it. I actually think the film handles the gore in a way that is very arthouse-y (ph).
LIMBONG: It's tasteful, right?
HARRIS: Yeah, it's tasteful.
LIMBONG: You know, no pun intended.
HARRIS: Oh, God (laughter).
LIMBONG: But it's not like a "Saw" movie. It didn't feel like "Saw" or "Hostel" or something like that.
HARRIS: No, no.
LIMBONG: It felt...
HARRIS: It wasn't schlock. Yeah. So it's interesting because I wouldn't say that I loved this film, but I definitely found I was engrossed the whole time. I felt drawn in by these characters, especially Taylor Russell, who I hadn't actually seen before. I didn't see the movie "Waves," which I think was one of the movies that kind of put her on the map recently. So this is my sort of introduction to her. Her facial expressions and the fact that this character - even though she is an eater, she's very conflicted about it throughout the film. Like, she has a compulsion to eat other humans, but she is very much like, I don't want to be like this, but I don't know what to do about it. So I was really drawn to her and her relationship with the Timothee Chalamet character, I think. It was giving some "Badlands," Terrence Malick "Badlands." I liked it, and I like that aspect of it, but I also couldn't help but feel - in my head I was like, this feels kind of like arthouse-y (ph) "Twilight," in a way.
HARRIS: Is that fair? Does that seem fair?
LIMBONG: That's a plus. That's, like, a check in my book. I was like, oh, hell yeah.
HARRIS: OK 'cause I can't call myself a "Twilight" fan. So I do think it's far better than that. But I was wondering if that was a fair comparison or not.
LIMBONG: Yeah, they have this, like, magnetic energy between the two. There's that scene when they first sort of, like, see each other. And they sort of look in into their eyes, and they have this, like, knowing glance. And you're right. She feels guilty about pretty much everything she does, right? Like, I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that she's shoplifting in this scene, right?
LIMBONG: And, you know, she also feels guilty about doing that. She feels just like - you can see it in her eyes. And then when she locks eyes with Timothee Chalamet, with Lee, you almost feel like she's, like, shrinking but accepting. It's like, oh, like, he sees me doing this, and he doesn't, like - he's not calling the cops. You know what I mean? He's not calling her out or whatever.
LIMBONG: And then when he confronts - there's, like, a bully in the store. There's a - like, an if you know, you know sort of quality between their glances. They sense each other. And it's really romantic in that way.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Excuse me.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Whoa, you trying to run me down? I asked a question. Hear this, you dumb ho.
TAYLOR RUSSELL: (As Maren) Hey, don't talk to her like that.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hey.
TIMOTHEE CHALAMET: (As Lee) You're out of control, buddy.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Are you with the store or something?
CHALAMET: (As Lee) No, I'm not the store, but I'm going to escort you out of it.
HARRIS: Yeah, and I think one of the things that's interesting about the film, too - and none of us have read the book, so I'm not sure how closely it hews to the book. But it does - really early on, when she - especially when she first meets Sully, who's played by Mark Rylance, it establishes this world where once you are - realize that there are other people like you, you're able to smell each other, the other eaters like you, and you can sense it. There's that way of knowing. And so I think it was really interesting to see that unfold, and her sort of learning her powers in a way...
HARRIS: ...Like, while still feeling like, I don't want to do this and be like this. So I found that really interesting to parse through.
LIMBONG: Yeah. I keep thinking about, like, what all of this is supposed to be a metaphor for, right? And I feel like it could be a lot of things. I think - I was definitely getting, like, oh, is this a movie about, like, addiction, right? Because there is, like I said, like, if you know, you know, like, you sort of, like - there is the teaching you how to do it sort of aspect to it.
LIMBONG: And it kind of reminded me of - what's that Al Pacino movie, "Panic In Needle Park?"
HARRIS: Oh, yes.
LIMBONG: You know, like, the two, like, heroin addicts just, like, making their way through life and, like, figuring their way out through it. Or you can, you know, take it to, you know, be about queer theory - you know, just, like, queerness and, like, that sort of thing. And there's also very similar, like, oh, here's how to - I'll teach you how to...
LIMBONG: ...Get through the society this way. I mean, you know, like any good horror, it's like, it could be about all of these things. And I think that's what the movie does so well. Like, all of the shame that everybody feels doing it, even Lee. Lee is supposed to be, like, a kind of bad boy, right? He's like a, yeah, whatever, I do it all the time. And, like, he feels like a sort of weight to it, too, once...
LIMBONG: ...Maren enters his life, you know?
HARRIS: Yeah, I - the first time we see Lee on screen, I was just like, oh, he looks like he's on drugs. And then later on in another scene, he's - someone actually refers to him as a junkie. Like, in that scene, that character is talking about him being a junkie in the sense that he's a junkie in relation to feeding and eating 'cause this person is also an eater. But as soon as I heard junkie, I was like, yeah, I can totally see that. And this is also the '80s, right?
HARRIS: So the '80s - drugs were a huge thing. The AIDS crisis was a thing. And so throughout the film, I was kind of getting that sense. Although Luca Guadagnino himself has kind of shrugged that off in a way and doesn't really want to assign any specific metaphors to it.
LIMBONG: Sure, yeah, yeah.
LIMBONG: That's our job.
HARRIS: Yes. But that's kind of what I got out of it. Now, I do wonder, though - there was, at one point, a barrier for me in terms of me - like, I was along with - for the ride for most of it, but afterwards, I was just kind of like - I didn't necessarily feel as much of the compulsion and the desire as I wanted to overall. I...
LIMBONG: To eat, or to - like, each other?
HARRIS: For each other, absolutely. But I felt like sometimes the eating part kind of receded to the background. And I'm not sure if that's a flaw or not. But I was reading a profile that Variety did where they interviewed all the stars and Guadagnino. And it was interesting because Guadagnino, in that interview, he said basically that, like, he wasn't interested in shock value, but he was interested in, like, the intensity of desire. And then Russell and Chalamet were interested in the emotional relationship more than the cannibalism. And I was like, I can kind of see that because I felt that there is this sort of disconnect in the tension. I don't know. It didn't quite, at the end of it, weigh for me when it came to the cannibalism. And I don't know if that was necessarily a bad thing, but I didn't...
LIMBONG: It's so frustrating when artists say stuff like that because then it's like...
HARRIS: I know (laughter).
LIMBONG: ...Well, then why did you make a movie about eating people, you know?
HARRIS: Right, right. It's like, I guess I wanted a little bit more connection to their desire for cannibalism and also their desire for other. And I felt like they didn't always gel together for me, if that makes sense.
LIMBONG: Yeah. I mean, there's no, like, consequence to not eating, from what I could tell, right? There's no, like, withdrawal symptoms or anything like that.
HARRIS: Right. Right.
LIMBONG: They just like to do it.
LIMBONG: They say they need to do it, but they don't really, like, lay out why they really actually need to.
HARRIS: Yes, exactly. I'm curious what you thought about - because we have these two stars here, but then we also have some other really powerhouse character actors, or just really powerful actors in general, between Andre Holland as Taylor's father, and Chloe Sevigny, as well, in another role. And I just felt that when you get those kinds of performers, I want more. And Chloe Sevigny's part especially felt like more of a cameo than anything else. I'm just like, what are - I wanted more out of both of them. I think they do what they can with those roles but...
LIMBONG: Yeah, but they don't get a lot.
HARRIS: ...They don't get a lot. And I just kind of wanted more out of it. But I don't know if you felt similarly in that way.
LIMBONG: There's - Sevigny has some, like, great face acting, you know?
LIMBONG: She does do it. I honestly - I straight up, like, didn't recognize her until, like, the credits rolled. I was like, oh, word? That was who that was?
HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
LIMBONG: Just 'cause she was, like, done up in such a way...
LIMBONG: ...That I was just, like, not paying attention to who the face on the screen was. Yeah. She, honestly though, like, could have been anybody, and I don't know if it would have made it much of a difference, right?
HARRIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I agree.
LIMBONG: But I think that Andre - I think her dad - he has enough of, like, such a strong presence at the beginning that when he's gone, you sort of, like, feel that void, right? You sort of, like, feel that the ground underneath her has, like, been swept away. And, you know, on that note, I just want to make a quick thing about their fits. They look sick. Everybody looks so cool in this movie.
HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
LIMBONG: She's wearing her, like, dad's work jacket all throughout.
HARRIS: I wanted that jacket so badly.
LIMBONG: Yeah, the big jacket over the dress and, like - makes it feel like she's, you know, going back to the whole shame thing. She's scared. She feels, like, some sort of comfort in this jacket and the memory of her dad while, you know, she's, like, looking for her mom. And I think you feel Andre Holland in that jacket. I don't know. Like...
LIMBONG: ...He's just there throughout the whole thing, watching over her.
HARRIS: It's the '80s, but it also feels very, kind of, pre-grunge or grungy or Kurt Cobain-y (ph).
LIMBONG: Yo, Timothee's jeans, bro - those jeans are crazy.
HARRIS: Yes, yes.
LIMBONG: They've got these, like, big rips all over. It's like, what is going on here (laughter)?
HARRIS: Yeah, they are beautiful. Everything is beautiful about this, even though it's - they're living in extreme poverty. But even those scenes look very beautiful in a way, or in a very indie movie kind of way. But the cinematography - all of those, you know - I mentioned it in the intro, like, the vistas of middle America - like, it looks gorgeous. And there's a great scene between the Taylor Russell character and Timothee Chalamet, where they're just sitting on this hill, I guess, and looking out in this vast expanse. And it's just...
LIMBONG: Like teens do.
HARRIS: Like teens do.
HARRIS: Yeah. It was just giving me all the vibes of like a '90s, I don't know, commercial for jeans or something - (laughter) like a Levi's commercial. It felt very beautiful.
LIMBONG: But, I mean, I do think it's interesting, like, if you look at, like, the route that they take through America - right? - she goes with, like - her dad is from, like, the eastern shore of Maryland, right? And then they go to Ohio, up to, like, Kentucky and - like, it's definitely a big post-industrial Rust Belt route. They sort of, like, stay away from the cities and you get this, like, vast, very, like, Bruce Springsteen vibes from it all.
HARRIS: Yeah, very, very. I also just want to ask you about where you stand on Timothee Chalamet, generally speaking, like...
LIMBONG: Pro. Pro. Team Timmy all the way, dude.
HARRIS: I think he's - it's so interesting because he tends to play these sort of brooding characters, I think. I also think of something like "Lady Bird," even though he - it was a very different character, it's kind of the same vibe - sort of James Dean-y (ph) but for '80s, '90s way. And I think that this is sort of one of those movies that I think is going to be something that people remember. Just between, as you were saying, the way he looks in this film and then also just how he is, I can see teenagers being all over this. Like, this is - I mean, not that they aren't already all over it, but...
LIMBONG: Yeah. Listen, listen. As, like, a not particularly masc (ph) dude that also, like, hand-rolls cigarettes and stuff like - you know what I mean?
LIMBONG: Like, he is like one of us, you know what I mean? You know, it's nice to see some representation for soft boys in film these days, you know?
HARRIS: Timothee is carrying - he is carrying all of the soft boys for this era.
HARRIS: I totally - I love it (laughter). What I liked about this film is that, yes, it's very dark, but there's glimpses of humor. Like, the first time they sort of bond over talking about the first time that they eat someone - and it actually got a pretty big laugh because of the way they delivered it. It was just like, yeah, me too.
HARRIS: Like, what? It's like, wow (laughter).
HARRIS: So, yeah, it's not a very - like, it's not overly serious in a way that I appreciated, you know? It definitely understands that there is a little bit of an element of - I don't want to say camp, but, like, there are times where it's just, like, this is ridiculous.
LIMBONG: It's knowing.
HARRIS: Yeah, it's knowing. It's, like, this is kind of silly.
HARRIS: Not that cannibalism is silly, but you know what I mean. It's, like - it's a weird premise for a movie.
HARRIS: Basically, it's weird. Well, we want to know what you think about "Bones And All." You can find us at facebook.com/pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. Andrew Limbong, thanks for being here and helping me sort of chomp through - yeah, I said chomp through. Chomp through.
LIMBONG: Yeah. Om-nom-nom (ph), yeah.
HARRIS: We did pretty good without including too many bad puns.
LIMBONG: Like, food puns, yeah.
HARRIS: Yeah. We want to also take a moment to thank our POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR Plus subscribers. We appreciate you all so much for showing your support to NPR. So if you haven't signed up yet and you want to show your support and listen to this show without any sponsor breaks, head over to plus.npr.org/happyhour or visit the link in our show notes. This episode was produced by Chloee Weiner and edited by Jessica Reedy, and Hello Come In provides our theme music. I'm Aisha Harris, and we'll see you all tomorrow, when we'll be talking about the new movie "Disenchanted."
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