“If a cannibal, why hot?” This is not an original thought on my part, but Timothée Chalamet’s fifth most liked Instagram comment from November 25. The actor posted a grainy image of his character Lee from the new film Bones and all, shirtless and covered in blood, with a (formerly) white shell necklace wrapped around his neck and a lit Marlboro dangling from his lips.
The comment made me laugh because it reminded me of my own twisted thoughts while watching the movie. Lee and Maren (Taylor Russell) are traveling cannibal teenagers. They certainly murder people, but you still sympathize with them. I think it has a lot to do with costume design. The hot cannibal wardrobe is, in my eyes, really appealing – and it gives them both an unmistakable vulnerability.
I will be honest. I wanted to see bones and all because of fashion – not what the characters were wearing in the teaser photos, but what Russell was wearing on the press tour: vintage Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren archives and Schiaparelli haute couture. Her film festival looks captivated me to the point where I watched the loop trailer– and it wasn’t until my fourth rewatch that I even realized that the film’s protagonists ate human flesh.
I went to the theater with almost no information about the story. All I knew for sure was that people kept using the following words to describe him: Tender. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Romantic. Nobody really mentioned all the gore. But ten minutes into the film, I began to understand when Maren bit her friend’s ring finger at a sleepover, then broke down in tears of remorse. They are not cannibals like Hannibal Lecter; they don’t want to have that urge. And apparently cannibals who don’t really want to be cannibals wear soft grunge.
The wardrobe of loose floral dresses, baggy t-shirts and shredded denim seems slightly out of place for the 1980s, when the film is set. But costume designer Guilia Piersanti sends a message by not dressing Lee and Marin in the bright colors, parachute pants or puffy shoulders that were common at the time. It’s clear they’re the kind of misfits who pioneered the grunge aesthetic, before it became a commodity by people who could afford unripped jeans but wanted to dress like they couldn’t. Everything feels authentic about Maren and Lee, a chosen family of two, shunned by everyone close to them, with barely any money to their name. If the movie had wanted to make us hate them, they wouldn’t have put them in such pretty clothes.
Piersanti has made some pretty costumes for bones and allbefore the director of Luca Guadagnino, notably in call me by your name and Suspiria. For the last, Piersanti designed a custom print for a dress inspired by a drawing by Louise Bourgeois of scattered women’s hip bones. From a distance, it looked like a simple golden embroidery of cherry branches.
This quiet creepiness is evident in Bones & All’s suits too: the raw edges and pastel flowers of Lee’s shirts suggest it may have been an old dinner dress that he reworked up top. But he doesn’t wear them like trophies. Instead, there’s a softness and ease to her and Maren’s appearance, reminiscent of those worn by the characters in call me by your name. Everything Elio, Oliver, Maren and Lee wear is tender in a slightly sad way, as they each chose these little denim shorts and chunky patterned sweaters to dress up for someone else when they can’t even look at each other.
At a dinner party shortly after the meeting (where, thankfully, they opt for pancakes and cereal), Lee tells Maren that he doesn’t mind her hanging out with him because she “has the nice look”, to which she replies: “I a m good.” Lee “eats,” as he calls it, only when he feels like his meal has called for him. Maren, on the other hand, acts impulsively, actively avoiding situations that will make him want to. At one point, she even puts the burden of finding a meal entirely on Lee so she can shake off the guilt she feels afterwards.
Maren and Lee do not identify with their cursed compulsion. They don’t see themselves as pretty young freaks like the public does. And instead of someone like Portia on The White Lotus, who dresses like she doesn’t know who she is or who she wants to be, Maren and Lee dress like two people with a strong and painful sense of self. They know who they are. But that doesn’t stop them from trying to look like someone else.
The wardrobe clearly shows that they crave a sense of normalcy, but it’s also strange to say that they don’t dress like cannibals, because what should a cannibal dress look like? Other monsters depicted in film have a fixed aesthetic, like eternally young vampires in sexy black lace dresses and sleek leather jackets. Cannibals don’t because they’re not entirely mythical. The scariest thing about this type of behavior is that it actually happened, and like all evils humans are capable of, it doesn’t come with a fixed costume.
But bones and all doesn’t necessarily make a point about cannibalism as much as crafting an allegory. By dressing Maren and Lee in the kind of grunge uniform that has become the universal wardrobe of depressed and sensitive romantics, Piersanti prepares us to think of them as people first. Their struggles with self-acceptance make it clear that all the agony of eating flesh is really just a metaphor for being an outsider, with outward desires. Some suggested it was specifically about homosexuality, others said Lee’s aesthetic was so analogous to Kurt Cobain’s that it must be about addiction. But it could just as well be seen through the prism of whatever was deemed unacceptable by society (which, in the conformist 80s, was a long, long list.)
The grunge look has been romanticized for years, and it’s often thrown at characters to make them nervous. But in Bones and all, it feels authentic because it is worn by tormented people who hate themselves but still yearn for self-knowledge. In the last ten minutes of the film, Lee asks Maren, “Do you think I’m a bad person?” It’s clear that they see each other, and so she can’t give him the answer he wants. But seeing him in his pink patterned top, with his empty, watery eyes, it’s not impossible to think that maybe somehow he’s not that bad either. .
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