When I was twenty-three, I saw The Exorcist. It was sufficiently terrifying that I waited forty-nine years before going to another movie in the horror genre. That happened two weeks ago, and the movie was the critically acclaimed and Oscar-buzzing film, Bones and All. Its key protagonist is a likeable teenager, Maren, who has a habit that becomes too much for even the single dad who raised her: she’s a cannibal.
I broke nearly half a century of horror-movie avoidance to see this one because the book on which it is based, also entitled Bones and All, was written by my treasured friend and 2013 Main Street Vegan Academy graduate Camille DeAngelis. The story is so gripping that elite director Luca Guadagnino wanted to make a movie of it, and top-of-their-game actors Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet signed on in the leading roles. But I saw it for the same reason I read the novel, and for one key reason that the author wrote it: as surprising as it sounds, this is a Vegan story.
It started when DeAngelis was snooping in an antique Scottish cookbook and found it curious that the section containing meat recipes was called “Flesh.” She was taken aback, realizing that when someone eats meat, they are indeed consuming someone’s flesh, and in terms of sheer cellular biology, meat-eaters and cannibals aren’t all that different. So, her writer’s brain started percolating. Might not a fictional cannibal, like most people who eat meat, be well-intended, “normal,” and “nice”? Certainly Maren sees herself that way, congratulating herself when she hasn’t “done it” in quite some time. She tries hard to keep the cravings at bay, but sometimes they’re just too much for her.
When Maren’s father abandons her — being on the run after a handful of murders can strain even a good parent’s patience — she sets out on the road. She meets another cannibal, a creepy middle-aged man who determined Maren, based on how she smelled, to be another “eater.” He taught her the first rule of cannibal culture, never to consume a fellow eater. And, the Vegan in me is thinking, meateaters — and I was one myself for the first nineteen years of my life — sometimes consume flesh-eating animals, but much prefer to dine on herbivores.
While a horror film for obvious reasons, Bones and All is also a coming-of-age romance. When Taylor Russell’s Maren meets Timothee Chalamet’s Lee, also beset from time to time by an unbidden compulsion to consume human flesh, sparks fly. They’re sweet sparks, too. This is young love, shared by two deeply troubled people who are trying to find their way in the world despite the shameful and criminal urge they share. In one scene — a scene that DeAngelis feared would be cut, but it stayed in — the couple take refuge late one night in a slaughterhouse. Maren comments on the animals destined to be slaughtered the next day. She notes that they have feelings and families. That thought crossed my mind sometimes when I ate meat, but I blocked it with excuses about needing protein, or that it was, after all, “white” or “humane” or some other nonsense.
When I saw Bones and All in its first post-Festival New York City screening last month, two stalwart Main Street Vegan Academy grads, Louise Cohen-Silver and Beth Ertz, joined me. All three of us were outside our cinematic comfort zone, but we wanted to celebrate a fellow Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator and, knowing the Vegan subtext, we were going to see a very different film from the one other viewers in the packed theater were expecting.
It surprised me that more graduates didn’t want to join us — my own husband even: he can watch a flick long on suspense, violence, and apocalyptic scenarios as a mere distraction, but he stops short of gore. So, do I recommend this film? Wholeheartedly. The story is totally engrossing; the characters make you care in spite of yourself; and the acting is some of the best I’ve ever witnessed. Do I realize that a lot of people won’t take my recommendation? Sure. To each their own. If you’re intrigued but the thought of watching some bloody scenes is just not going to fly with you, perhaps you’d like to read the book. In her afterword, the author talks about her Veganism and the connection it has to the novel.
Either way, Bones and All is an artistic work that has Veganism at its core — and it’s making a huge splash in popular culture. There’s Vegan visual art out there, too: the whimsical but telling paintings of Dana Ellyn, and the works of Vegan painters, illustrators, and cartoonists, including Ruby Roth, Dan Piraro, and Melinda Hegedus. There are musician/activists including Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney, Vegan Smythe, bassist Tanya O’Callaghan, another graduate of Main Street Vegan Academy, and even Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine founder Neal Barnard, MD. Vegan fiction is becoming a genre within a genre: just yesterday my copy of Marrying Myself, by Christine Melanie Benson, arrived (yes, she also went through Main Street Vegan Academy); and graduate Jay Reace wrote the first of his fantasy series, Legacy, in 2020.
Art changes society more reliably and thoroughly than preaching — and, as a nonfiction author, one might contend that I preach. Maybe I do. But in addition to what we Vegangelists impart, bring on the stories, the images, the sounds, the artful allusions to the wonder of all beings, and the heartbreaking absurdity of human habits that cause suffering and take lives.
Victoria Moran is the author of thirteen books, the founder and director of Main Street Vegan Academy, and a co-founder of the Compassion Consortium, an Interfaith spiritual center for animal advocates. She is also host of the Victoria Moran Podcast, on which Camille DeAngelis recently appeared. And on the art front, she is the co-writer with Rev. William Melton, her husband and a Main Street Vegan Academy alum, of the screenplay, Miss Liberty, about a cow who escapes from a slaughterhouse and the human drama that ensues. Please follow Victoria on Facebook and Instagram, and on Twitter, you can follow @MissLibertyFilm for updates on progress there.