What to Know About the Book Behind Bones and All

9 minute read

Bones and All is a tender love story between two cannibals that will rip your heart out. Director Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, in theaters Nov. 23, is based on Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 coming of age novel of the same name. The bloody romance, set in Reagan-era America, stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet as Maren and Lee, two misfits whose taste for flesh brings them together, but may also be what ultimately tears them apart.

The film, written by David Kajganich, who previously worked with Guadagnino on Suspiria and A Bigger Splash, doesn’t shy away from the blood and guts that comes with Maren and Lee’s insatiable need for human bones and all. (Fun fact: DeAngelis is a vegan and had newly become one when she started writing the book.) But Guadagnino sees something beautiful in the horrors portrayed in the road trip movie. “I think it’s a romantic film—it’s a romance,” he told The A.V. Club earlier this month. “It’s a dark fable—it’s a fable about overcoming your limits and your nature, and finding love.”

The way Bones and All focuses on the romantic elements of this forbidden love affair isn’t too different from its source material. However, Kajganich did make changes to the original work that DeAngelis has said made her story about love, alienation, and addiction even better. Here’s what you need to know about Bones and All and the book that inspired it.

What is Bones and All based on?

Based on Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 YA novel, the macabre story follows a shy girl named Maren who discovers she is an “eater,” someone who likes the taste of human flesh, and embarks on a cross-country journey to find her absentee father, who she believes is the key to understanding who (or what) she is. Along the way, Maren runs into other eaters including Sully, a predatory father figure, and Lee, a wanderer who teaches her how to navigate her desires. In the end, Maren must confront who she is before she loses what’s left of her humanity.

How does Bones and All compare to the book?

Screenwriter David Kajganich wanted to remain faithful to the soul of DeAngelis’ horror-romance, while also pushing the nearly decade-old story forward. Luckily, she was more than happy to let Kajganich put his stamp on a book that she has admitted is not one of her favorites. (That title, she said, goes to either 2010’s Petty Magic or 2018’s The Boy From Tomorrow).

DeAngelis saw the screenplay as a “new work that is interacting with and responding to the work of another writer” who had already moved on from the project. Kajganich “has added so much depth and dimension and the result is a lot richer than what I originally conceived of a decade ago,” she said in a series of videos about the adaptation process on YouTube last year. Speaking at the Refocus Film Festival in October, DeAngelis said she was “delighted by the changes that Dave and Luca and the rest of the team made” to her story and that having some creative distance from the work allowed her to find a new joy in it. “I say this all the time,” she told the crowd. “I wish that I could go back in time and novelize the script and put Dave’s name on the book along with mine.”

Some of the depth came from small changes like swapping the genders of Maren’s parents. In the book, Maren is on a quest to find her long lost dad after her mom deserts her, but in the movie it’s her mother who she is searching for after being abandoned by her father (played by André Holland). Kajganich believed that the absence of a mother would have more of an effect on a young woman who doesn’t feel that she can trust her own body. “There could be empathy between a mother and a daughter about specifically how this condition sits inside of a female psyche,” he told The Upcoming last month.

The biggest change between the book and the film is how cannibalism is portrayed. In the novel, Maren and the other “eaters” are more like “ghouls than cannibals. They are monsters with supernatural abilities,” DeAngelis said. The world Maren inhabits feels more fantastical than the one readers live in.

Guadagnino told Variety last month that he wanted to treat the topic of cannibalism “very matter-of-factly.” He took a more animalistic approach to the feeding scenes, which though jarring to watch, but are rooted in reality. “Several pathologists provided us with answers on how you perform a bite on the body of someone who just died, for example,” he said when talking about the film’s accuracy. “It takes a lot of effort to bite through the skin. Someone was wondering if we would need [more defined] jaw muscles, but Americans are like that anyway. It’s from chewing gum.”

Taylor Russell (left) and Timothée Chalamet in Bones and AllYannis Drakoulidis—Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

How scary is Bones and All?

With all this talk of flesh eating, it’s probably no surprise to hear that Bones and All is as gory a movie as they come. Theatergoers may want to reschedule their dinner plans—or, maybe, just skip dinner entirely. (Despite the film’s commitment to realism, Taylor Russell told SlashFilm that she was really feasting on “maraschino cherries, dark chocolate, and Fruit Roll-Ups” in the film, not flesh.) That being said, the film, which has been compared to Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and Natural Born Killers, could have been far more unsettling.

Guadagnino often cuts away from the gratuity of the feedings, but Kajganich revealed during the inaugural Refocus Film Festival in October that an earlier cut of the movie was far more disturbing. While he didn’t go into detail, he told the festival crowd that “there was a limit, and you have to cross the line to know where the line is. Finding that line was upsetting, because we had to step over it and then realize that we didn’t need to push the audience around—we just needed to not protect the characters from their needs and their behaviors and their desires.”

Guadagnino agreed that Bones and All is more than the sum of its gruesome parts, telling Deadline in August that he “wasn’t interested at all in the shock value, which I hate. I was interested in these people. I understood their moral struggle very deeply.” His goal was to make Maren and Lee feel less alien to the audience. “I am not there to judge anybody,” he said. “You can make a movie about cannibals if you’re there in the struggle with them, and you’re not codifying cannibalism as a topic or a tool for horror.”

How did Timothée Chalamet’s casting influence the film?

Guadagnino’s first choice for the role of Lee was always his Call Me By Your Name star. He went so far as to tell Variety that Chalamet was the reason the movie got made. When Chalamet, who is also a producer on the film, signed onto the movie, he offered the director and Kajganich helpful feedback that they both say changed the character—and the film—for the better. “In the original script, Lee was a bit more boisterous. He was leading the way a little bit more,” Guadagnino told Deadline. “Whereas Timothée felt there was a desperation in Lee and a sense of tragic impossibility.”

By making the character “less certain, less assertive, and more doubtful and fragile,” Guadagnino said that the movie became “more mature” and less innocent than DeAngelis’ novel. Chalamet was able to create the character in ways that speak to his own experience as a teen finding his way. “He’s fiercely individualistic and is among the shadows as much as he’s screaming to be seen,” Chalamet told the Associated Press. “That’s all true in my experience at that age.”

What is Armie Hammer’s connection to Bones and All?

Last year, multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Hammer, who starred opposite Chalamet in Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, which included claims that he expressed fantasies of cannibalism. (Hammer denied the claims.) Shortly after these allegations led to serious repercussions for Hammer, including dropping out of the Jennifer Lopez film Shotgun Wedding and losing his representation, it was announced that Guadagnino and Chalamet were working on a new film about cannibalism. Guadagnino has denied the rumors that his film is in any way inspired by the recent scandal surrounding his former leading man.

At the Zurich Film Festival last month, the director said that producer Theresa Park and Kajganich had been working on the film adaptation of DeAngelis’s novel “since the book was released. Many years ago, probably around the time when we were shooting Call Me by Your Name,” he said, according to Variety. He noted that he was not the original director on the project. “It was to be directed by my great colleague Antonio Campos, but he decided not to go for it,” he said. “That’s when they gave me the script. Any correlation with this kind of innuendo and silliness is preposterous.”

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