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What is Bones and All about?
Bones and All is a twist on the typical coming of age story. While Maren has a unique problem in her vampiric and cannibalistic need for human blood and meat, she’s like a lot of kids. By that, I mean she has an issue that defines and limits her. An issue she’s still coming to terms with. In the real world, an example is someone with abandonment issues. Or issues around sexuality. Or trauma. Or someone with confidence issues. Someone who has already fallen prey to an addiction. Or has a physical or mental handicap. Most of us have something about ourselves that we struggled to understand and live with. Bones and All just takes that to an extreme. And explores the ways in which we learn about ourselves, come to terms with ourselves, and, maybe, persevere. Though it’s not easy. But you savor what you can, while you can. Bones and all.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Maren Yearly – Taylor Russell
- Lee – Timothée Chalamet
- Sully – Mark Rylance
- Janelle Kerns – Chloë Sevigny
- Kayla – Anna Cobb
- Frank Yearly – André Holland
- Jake – Michael Stuhlbarg
- Brad – David Gordon Green
- Sherry – Kendle Coffey
- Lance – Jake Horowitz
- Barbara – Jessica Harper
- Directed by – Luca Guadagnino
- Written by – David Kajganich
- Based on the novel – Bones and All (Camille DeAngelis)
The ending of Bones and All explained
Bones and All ending begins with Sully’s surprise return. He’s broken into the apartment Maren and Lee rent. When Maren arrives home, he pounces and pins her to the bed. He explains his frustration with Maren but also his obsession. He is on the brink of violence. That’s when Lee arrives. Lee jumps Sully by putting a plastic bag over the older man’s head. The two struggle. Even though Sully can’t see or breathe, he manages to stab Lee with a knife. Maren gets up, gets the knife, and the three fall to the ground. There, she mortally wounds Sully. She and Lee then drag Sully to the bathroom, to the bathtub. Sully expires.
After the fight, Maren finds Sully’s braided rope of hair from his victims. A newly woven piece is from Kayla, Lee’s sister. Meaning that Sully ate Kayla before coming to Michigan for Maren. Just as Maren begins to process this, Lee collapses. Realizing he doesn’t have long to live, he and Maren kiss, then Lee begs her to eat him.
We cut to the apartment, cleaned up and emptied out. We still see blood stains on the floor. The final shots are of Maren and Lee back on the hill in Nevada where they had proclaimed their love for each other. Where they had promised to just be people.
The main themes of Bones and All have to do with history, companionship, and acceptance of the good with the bad. With those things in mind, the ending becomes very symbolic. Sully, in the original book by Camille DeAngelis, is actually Maren’s grandfather. This isn’t revealed in the film. But, in both the film and the book, Sully’s the embodiment of history you can’t escape from. History that haunts you. History you need to confront.
Both Maren and Lee have struggled with aspects of their childhood. For Maren, it’s never knowing her mom. For Lee, it’s eating his abusive father. Together, they help one another confront those things. Lee takes Maren to meet her mom. Maren allows Lee to tell her something he’s kept bottled inside for years. This companionship allows them to heal and, for a little while, to live a mostly normal life. Sully is a reckoning. This unfinished business that spoils the life Maren and Lee have built together.
But Sully’s also the antithesis to what Maren and Lee have. He’s spent most of his life cut off from people. Lonely. Aimless. All he has for companionship is the hair he’s kept from his victims. A way to remember people he connected with, even if it was in a horrific way. So when Maren was kind to him, he became obsessed with her, that’s how overpowering his hunger for companionship was.
Ultimately, the deaths of Sully and Lee represent Maren’s loss of innocence and coming of age. Earlier in the movie, another eater (Jake), older than Maren and Lee, had explained that you reach a point of eating someone “bones and all”. Maren is, of course, grossed out by this. That moment is important because it’s the film framing the act as a “next stage”. That Maren initially rejects that concept is a typical narrative expression of innocence. It’s like telling the kids from The Sandlot they’ll be too busy to play baseball one day and all of them saying “No, we’ll always play baseball together!” Except much darker. Of course, Sandlot ends with the kids growing up and drifting apart.
So Bones and All ends with Maren’s consumption of Lee. She’s eating someone, quite literally bones and all. But it’s not this awful thing that she had envisioned. Because in her innocence she had only viewed it as this carnal, animalistic thing. Where in that moment with Lee, it’s done out of love. He’s giving himself to her as a last act.
The concept of “bones and all” isn’t just about the act of eating. It’s a riff on the idea of taking the good with the bad. Both Maren and Lee had a lot of baggage. Baggage that almost ruined their blossoming relationship. Lee didn’t want to open up to Maren. And Maren wasn’t sure she could accept who and what they were. These are the bones that get in the way. This is the bad stuff anyone can get caught up in and overwhelmed by. I’m not good enough. No one will love me. I’m a bad person. etc. etc. The ability to come to terms with those thoughts is life changing. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not. There’s always some bad. There’s always some bone. Once you move past that, you can embrace the rest. So Maren eating Lee represents all of that. That she’s reached a point of accepting everything that’s happened. And now she can move on to the next chapter. Even though Lee won’t be there—he will be, you know? He’s forever a part of her.
Which is, I’d argue, the meaning of the last moments where we see Maren and Lee back on the hill in Nevada. That was the place they fully opened up to one another. Where they decided to love and accept being loved. That moment is something Maren will now carry on with her. Having had that, she’ll hopefully have a different outcome than Sully and her mom. She can find a way to live a life as a person. With all the good and bad that comes with it. It’s not a traditionally happy ending but it’s not a full-on tragedy either.
In the book, Maren doesn’t really mourn Lee’s passing. She works in a library and kind of gleefully eats someone. Which I think supports the reading that Movie Maren will move on with her life. Though maybe in a more thoughtful and humanistic way than Novel Maren.
But I do think some people might argue the ending of Bones and All is more negative than I argued in the above section. As in, Maren decides not to live. The basis for this would be that after she eats Lee, we never see Maren again in “real time”. Just on the hill, in a kind of dream-like shot. Someone might argue this is evidence Maren has “reunited” with Lee. And what we’re seeing is the romanticized afterlife where they’re together forever.
Now, I don’t believe that’s the case. I think Bones and All is crafted well enough that they’d give more foreshadowing if that was the direction they wanted to go. From what I saw, the signs pointed more towards a “glass half full” reading then a “glass is totally empty”. That’s why the movie is called Bones and All. Because you learn to live with the bad because the “all” is so much greater. If Maren couldn’t do that, it would, I think, defeat the purpose of her journey.
The themes and meaning of Bones and All
Maren’s entire character journey is finding a way to live with who and what she is. Part of that plot and process involves coming to terms with her father’s departure, her mother’s rejection, and the complicated morality of how she and Lee survive. And part of it will also involve the circumstances with Sully and Lee’s death. Symbolically, her eating Lee, bones and all, is an act of internalizing her life up to this point. And part of that acceptance is acknowledging the bad and the good. The negative and the positive. The bone and the meat.
Loneliness and understanding
We don’t meet many other vampire-like cannibal people. Maren, Maren’s mom, Lee, Sully, Jake. But there’s a clear dichotomy between the ones who live in isolation and the ones who find camaraderie. Maren’s mom isolated herself and ended up chewing off both arms (and a leg?). Sully isolated himself and became a crazy loner who obsesses over Maren simply because Maren showed him the slightest degree of kindness and compassion. Lee and Maren were adrift until they found each other and went on their road trip. And while it wasn’t always perfect, it was better. Then Jake had an eater-by-choice companion, Brad. To be fair, Jake and Brad seemed weird. But they were absolutely better-off than Maren’s mom and Sully. So Bones and All encourages people to (cautiously) seek out connection rather than rejecting the world. There are others out there who will get what you’re dealing with, will appreciate you for it, love you for it. Just give yourself an opportunity to find them.
Maren spends much of Bones and All trying to understand her past. First, it’s the tape her dad leaves her that’s full of anecdotes and information Maren never knew. It gives her a clearer idea of her childhood and why her life has been how it’s been. Then there’s the conversation with her adopted grandmother. There, Maren learns more about her mother. And finally, Maren encounters her mom and the letter her mom left. These three events all help her gain an understanding of herself that she had previously lacked. The information doesn’t magically change her life, but it gives her enough closure to where she can start looking ahead to what’s next.
The theme of history is reinforced by both Lee and Sully. With Lee, it’s how much his role in his dad’s death haunts him. The romantic breakthrough between Lee and Maren only happens after he confides in her about his father. By sharing his history, he gains a bit of a future. Then with Sully, it’s the rope-like braid of human hair from people he ate. While Lee and Sully struggle with emotional aspects of the past, Sully carries with him a very physical reminder. Then, of course, Sully himself is a part of Maren’s past and keeps coming back and impacting her life. He’s the embodiment of this theme of history and how it can haunt us, especially when left unaddressed.
Why is the movie called Bones and All?
This is one of those films where the title has a direct reference in the story. Maren and Lee cautiously hang out with fellow people-eaters, Jake and Brad. Jake talks about reaching the point where you don’t just eat human flesh, but you keep going. You devour everything. Bones and all. Which grosses out both Maren and Lee, as neither had embraced what they are to that degree. It makes them seem even more monstrous than they already feel.
Of course, the implication at the very end of Bones and All is that Maren eats Lee to completion.. Initially, Maren had thought of such an act as something disturbing, a giving-in to the craving and lust she so despised. But with Lee, it’s an extension of their romance and love story. If he’s going to die, he wants to feed her. And if he’s going to die, she wants to make him as much a part of her as possible.
With that in mind, we can turn to the metaphor. The idea of “bones and all” has two meanings. The most obvious being another way of saying “fully” or “completely”. Similar to the idea of someone cleaning their plate. Or fighting tooth and nail. This directly ties back to the above body horror example of eating every bit of someone.
The second meaning is less literal and similar to the idea of taking the good with the bad. If you’re eating something, the bone is pretty much the worst part. But you eat around it. This can apply to the relationship Maren and Lee have. It wasn’t perfect. But you take the good with the bad; you accept it for what it is. Which extrapolates beyond the relationship to become a way to view life. In life, there are these sad, terrible, awful things we deal with. But life’s better when we don’t run from them. When we don’t fear them. When we, instead, make them a part of us. And live to the hilt. All in.
Important motifs in Bones and All
Sully’s rope/braid of hair
One of the darker motifs we’ve ever discussed. Sully is a fellow eater who has spent most of his life as a transient with little companionship. This isolation has turned him into someone who connects to others through taking their lives. This is most obviously visualized through the braid of human hair he’s made from each of his victims. Everyone he has ever dined on. It’s a lot. But he keeps it with him because it’s the closest thing to friendship that he has. Each bit of hair is a reminder of the time he spent with someone, even if the relationship was one-sided. Given that Bones and All has themes focusing on history and companionship, Sully serves as a foil to Maren’s journey. She has Lee and a future. Sully has a bag full of dead hair.
Maren reads a lot. Which makes sense. She moved around as a child because she kept having incidents. Meaning she didn’t really have friends. And her dad was distant because Maren’s feeding outbursts terrified him. Her home life was basic because they never knew when they’d have to pick up and run. It’s also the 1980s and Virginia. It’s not like there was a lot for Maren to do, anyway. So she reads.
Thematically-speaking, reading is often associated with finding comfort in other worlds and lives. Of course, reading can just be for fun. The past-time of a dreamer. But it can also be a form of escape. A way to distance from reality for a bit. As well as a form of companionship. People connect with the characters from books (and movies). So Maren’s connection to reading probably ties into the theme of companionship. But also is probably a reflection of how much she struggles with who and what she is. That weighs on her. Books give her some time away from such self-reflection and allow her to be someone else, somewhere else.
Questions & answers about Bones and All
How does the book Bones and All differ from the movie?
The biggest difference is that in the book Sully is Maren’s grandfather. Which changes the entire foundation of their relationship and his following her around. In the novel, it’s a messed up family dynamic. In the movie, Sully’s just a lonely creep who attaches to Maren because she was kind to him. Each becomes a different kind of commentary. One about family, the other about loneliness and male/female interactions.
Another huge difference is the final confrontation with Sully. In the film, it’s Maren and Lee against Sully and Sully mortally wounds Lee with a knife. In the book, Maren dodges Sully’s knife thrust, then Sully kind of gives up. Lee bursts in and seizes Sully. Maren hides in the bathroom for, quote, “Seven minutes, give or take.” In that time, Lee defeats and feeds on Sully. So book Maren is a lot more passive. And Sully is far less threatening.
Even weirder than how passive the fight is is the aftermath. In the film, Sully stabs Lee in the lung and Lee succumbs to the wound. He asks Maren to eat him as this final act of love and connection. But in the book? In the book, Lee is perfectly fine after the fight. No damage. He and Maren talk for a bit. Maren drinks from Sully’s flask and gets drunk. Then the two share a bed for the first time. When Maren wakes up the next day, she discovers the mess she made from eating Lee. Which was something he wanted? The weirdest part is that Maren barely has any reaction to it. There’s a brief “Whoops. We had some good times. Wish I hadn’t done this.” Then Maren just…moves on with her life. It’s pretty anticlimactic. Especially compared to the movie. Also, Kayla wasn’t one of Sully’s victims. She’s completely fine.
The last stretch is Maren pretending to be a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Again, she doesn’t mourn Lee at all. She gets a job as a librarian. Haunts campus. And flirts with a guy named Jason. After months, Jason finally tries to make a move on her, and Maren eats him. That’s the end of the book.
What are the people in Bones and All?
It’s never specifically stated. They’re often referred to as “eaters” and the word “cannibal” does get thrown in once or twice. It seems almost like a twist on the vampire story. Except more natural than supernatural. But I’d say “exaggerated cannibalism” is the best explanation. And it seems to be genetic. Maren’s mom had this. Lee’s dad had it. I imagine if Maren and Lee had a kid that the kid would have it. Though, interestingly enough, Kayla was normal. So it seems somewhat selective?
Does Maren eat Lee?
Yes, 100%. Lee was dying and so “gifted” himself to Maren. There’s a morbid romanticism about it. Eating someone makes them part of you. And the love Lee and Maren shared means Lee was already emotionally a huge part of Maren. So the physical act is kind of a reflection of their relationship. And of course symbolizes Maren ending a chapter in her life and crossing this threshold into a post-Lee, post-bones-and-all world.
How did Sully find Kayla?
Sully had been following Maren almost the entire movie. Just keeping his distance. So two things could have happened. One, Kayla went to visit Lee and Maren at the university but Sully got to her first. Two, Sully went to Kentucky specifically for Kayla. We do know Sully had been following Maren the whole time. Meaning he was nearby when Lee first introduced Maren to Kayla. And would have probably been following when Maren went back to Kentucky to ask Kayla about Lee. So Sully knew exactly where Kayla was.
Did Lee have a weird non-reaction to news that Sully killed Kayla?
Yes. I mean, he was dying himself. But you would expect the movie to give the characters more to do with the news. Kayla was essentially the only person Lee cared about aside from Maren. And he only knew Maren for a few months. Kayla was like…his sole reason to live. To not give him the opportunity to react was a strange call.
Why did the end flashback to Maren and Lee on the hill?
I believe that was when they were in Nevada. There’s that big breakthrough scene on that hill where the two of them essentially declare their love for each other and make a declaration to build a life together. It’s this memory of purity and hope and opportunity. And it’s visually beautiful in a way a lot of the movie isn’t. It’s pretty ideal. I would guess the purpose of the flashback is two-fold. One, it contrasts Maren leaving the apartment she and Lee had been living in, ending this brief time they had together. There’s something very cold in the shots of the empty apartment with stains still on the floor. And very enclosed. Compared to the openness of that hill and the sense of opportunity and love and passion. Two, it strikes me as the kind of thing that like…in the aftermath of her eating Lee, this is the feeling she now carries with her. What lives on in her as she continues on with the next phase of her life. He gave her this sense of peace and potential. The sense that she can live normally.
How old was Maren?
18. Her dad waited until she became an adult. Then he left.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Bones and All? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!