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Netflix released a new movie titled To the Bone, exploring the journey of 20-year-old Ellen that has been hospitalised four times for her anorexia nervosa. It's been a while since someone has actively explored the idea of eating disorders within a setting that gives you an idea of how different eating disorders interact with others; the only film that really comes to mind is God Help the Girl in 2013 (which was a really good film if you haven't seen) and that used the main character's eating disorder as a weird parallel to the story rather than the main plot.
A lot of media outlets and journalists have denounced the film, saying that it just proves that no-one can make a good film about anorexia and eating disorders including the Guardian, the Independent, and the Huffington Post.
And some of these reviews have some good points about how the film could be triggering for those that are currently in recovery from such mental illness as anorexia, bulimia, and self-harm but, as a person that has suffered from mild orthorexia and disordered eating, I cannot see how this film has glamorized or trivialised eating disorders in any way.
First of all, the acknowledgement that your family environment doesn't have to be the reason behind mental disorders like anorexia, to quote Dr. Beckham (played by Keanu Reeves), "It's never that simple." Ellen's family life is something of a mess: her mother now married to another woman, a father that's never home, a step-mother that has no idea how to deal with the problem at hand, and a step-sister that seems to be the only person that wants to help Ellen in the here-and-now. But it doesn't seem to be the thing that started Ellen's disordered thinking in the first place, despite how much everyone wants to place blame on others for Ellen's anorexia.
The concept of using controversial treatment for those that have been through traditional hospitalisation multiple times is a realistic idea, along with all of the interesting characters that live in the house with Ellen throughout her stay.
Luke, played by Alex Sharp, is the only male in the house and also the only foreigner, being English in a Los Angeles inpatient house. He is an ex-dancer that developed his anorexia after suffered a knee injury.
He travelled to Los Angeles via New Jersey in order to be admitted into this inpatient program, something that I feel is very telling of dance as an industry as well as of dancers within that industry. Eating disorders are incredibly prevalent in dancers and far more evenly distributed amongst men and women, so it's super realistic that Luke would be admitted to an inpatient program. His general optimism and motivation to recover is also incredibly realistic, given that dancers have to self-motivate in order to accomplish high levels of competency in their discipline.
Luke and Ellen's relationship development is also something that runs incredibly realistically throughout the film, starting with Luke's infatuation with Ellen and leading to their kiss towards the middle of the film. The display of levels of recovery within that single kiss scene speak volumes about how a mental illness affects you physically and emotionally.
Megan, Pearl, Tracey, and Anna are also incredibly varied and interesting characters suffering from anorexia and bulimia, including Pearl's initial introduction where she is being tube-fed, Anna running from the cinema and hiding her purged vomit in a thick bag under her bed and the pregnancy that Megan experiences during the duration of the film, along with a miscarriage. They all have different background and levels of recovery with individual character traits that make for an interesting plot.
Kendra, I feel, is easily the most unusual character in the household, being a black, lesbian woman with a binge eating disorder. It's almost non-existent in mainstream media to portray someone with a binge eating disorder that isn't trivialised or laughed off, so seeing such a mainstream studios make a film including all kinds of eating disorders is a true breath of fresh air.
Ellen's transformation into Eli is a great exploration into how the person others expect you to be isn't always the person you end up being. It's beautiful that she is also told by professionals that it's okay to let go of the things that your family give you and make something for yourself. My personal favourite scene for Eli's transformation being the dream/vision sequence towards the end, where she sees herself dying from the branches of a tree. It's one of the main abstract sequences in the film and really added some artistic implication to the feature.
Dr. Beckham is definitely the kind of character than I enjoy in the role of doctor, someone that takes no shit and works incredibly objectively to fix a problem with someone, making sure he knows the person subjectively and personally in order to be able to help with their recovery objectively. I find that a lot of doctors in these types of film tends to mollycoddle the patients and patronise them and it's wonderful to see such a harsh, honest character.
Also something that is great about this production is the fact that a lot of the crew and cast have experienced some form of eating disorders, including Lily Collins as the main character and director and screenplay writer Marti Noxon. You can really see the experience that these people have had coming out of the plot, giving it some natural grit and humour that would only be drawn from an experience with the people affected by this.
Overall, this film really hit the nail on the head for a lot of people, including RottenTomatoes which is notorious for heavy criticism of modern works, which gave the film a rating of 71% overall and a 61% for audience enjoyment. Despite some more negative review from some mainstream outlets, it's still doing better than average and it's still doing better than 13 Reasons Why.
I mean, I could do a whole review on 13 Reasons Why and why it's absolute trash but I will just leave some links underneath this to show:
Bad dramatization aside, To The Bone was a great film and if you've yet to watch it, it's currently on Netflix. This film will give you a real insight into the life of someone with an eating disorder.
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