Netflix’s new film, “To the Bone”, is creating a lot of buzz.
“To the Bone” follows Ellen, a 20-year-old artist and anorexic, and her emotional and psychological ups and downs at an unconventional eating disorder treatment center. Anorexia is a dangerous and often deadly eating disorder.
The film — and how it discusses eating disorders — is receiving praise from some people, and a lot of valid criticism from others.
No one person’s eating disorder experience is the same, and “To the Bone” drives that point home. The film highlights various patients’ stories. The audience gets a taste of how bulimics hide their vomit, see that some people routinely binge without purging, and that some patients mitigate their weight with excessive exercise. The film’s characters also are diverse. We see patients with different genders, sexualities, and ethnicities. There’s even a pregnant woman at the facility.
“To the Bone” also shows how people with eating disorders can count a meal’s calories in a moment, and that numbers, especially one’s weight, are the enemy. The film effectively shows that the life of an anorexic is exhausting — not sexy.
These representations are important because life with an eating disorder is not a life that is chosen, nor a life that should be envied, Michael McDonough, director of communications, Walden Behavioral Care, says. “The journey to recovery can be a long, tiring and extremely emotional journey for all involved.”
Unfortunately, the bad in “To the Bone” outweighs its positive aspects.
The first issue that many viewers have with the movie is that Lilly Collins, the star of the movie, is herself an anorexic in recovery. And knowing that Collins chose to loose a significant amount of weight for the film is disturbing. No person with an eating disorder is ever cured. Living with this mental illness is similar to living with an addiction. Recovery is never over and a person has to take one day at a time.
And although the film doesn’t try to make Collins’ body look appealing or sexy, some of the shots of her ribs, collar bones, and back are questionable. Even if the filmmaker’s intent is to horrify the audience into feeling bad for a mentally ill woman, many of the movie’s shots of Collins seem like overkill.
The movie also fails to explain why eating disorders manifest and why they are hard to kick. The film makes it seem like Ellen’s problems are because of her family’s issues. But eating disorders don’t just pop up because someone’s parents don’t get along. And similarly, an eating disorder doesn’t disappear because a person’s family starts to get along.
This plot failure is most damaging because it’s the “thing” that provides the movie’s nice, tidy ending.
The last act of “To the Bone” shows Ellen hitting rock bottom. It’s almost like the film is saying that a person has to hit “bottom” to “choose” recovery.
“Recovery is not a choice – in anorexia or in any illness,” Patricia Gazzola, psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Eating Disorder Program at Atlantic Health System, says.
“Unfortunately, for an illness with the highest mortality of any mental illness – from both suicide as well as medical complications – bottom is being dead.”
What to remember
It’s impossible for artistic endeavors to represent how someone with an eating disorder feels, but “To the Bone” tries.
After all, says Gazzola, any artistic expression that brings awareness to anorexia is a wonderful thing.
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