Ellen, a young adult artist who has faced anorexia nervosa for so long she’s near death, finds herself in a new in-patient treatment center faced with the same struggles as every other film about eating disorders.
To The Bone, Netflix’s new Lily Collins starring film, follows Ellen (later: Eli) near death due to her anorexia nervosa as she enters a battle with herself, with parents that continue to fail her, and a world view where she cannot see the point of continuing life or battling her eating disorder. The film paints eating disorders in a new light: it’s not about losing the weight, or being “skinny,” but it’s actually a much larger and deep-rooted issue.
As someone who struggles with an eating disorder, I was skeptical to watch this film after the way Netflix handled 13 Reasons Why. Images that are too graphic, or the way some dialogue is can send anyone back to a certain time in their life, yet even though that did happen with this film, I still wanted to keep watching. There were distasteful jokes, like the burger-shaped cake that Ellen’s stepmother gives her that reads, “Eat Up, Ellen.” And there are also jokes that would only be funny to someone who has been there before.
Whether you’ve been in shoes similar to Ellen’s or not, the film really opens up the viewers for a conversation afterward. Thankfully, the trope of ‘an eating disorder “being under control” and then they die’ wasn’t used to steer Ellen toward fighting to get healthy, but instead it was her own self-discovery that she’d like to live. Her journey wasn’t easy; perhaps the most important part of the film is the simultaneous receiving and lack of parental support. Her father isn’t seen once in the film, and her mothers (all three of them) all have their own issues to work through. Ellen at one point apologizes to them for “not being a person anymore” and instead being a problem.
It’s important to see stories of those struggling with eating disorders without a supportive family behind them. As much as I love Make It Or Break It, which saw gymnast and National Champion Kaylie Cruz dealing with anorexia, they fell to the trope listed above to send Kaylie spinning into her own recovery, and her parents eventually became completely (and a little overly) supportive. It’s great to see stories like that, which are a bit happier, but it’s important to bring attention to those without support from anyone that are trying to recover on their own.
There were twists and turns in Ellen’s journey, including a death and her near-death experience and hitting rock bottom, and the way these characters speak about eating disorders has been called into attention for “glamorizing” eating disorders, but I have to disagree. If anyone wants realistic portrayals of those with EDs, it’s important to capture their essence. Before you realize what you’re doing to your body, and even after sometimes, it’s still impossible to just not do it and not see a problem with it. That’s where the, “I have it under control,” line comes in because everyone thinks they have it under control until they don’t anymore.
It was refreshing to see a bit more diversity in Ellen’s in-patient program than we usually do, but in no way was it enough. One male and one woman of color doesn’t equal diversity, but it was a small, refreshing change to the normally whitewashed, Hollywood world of eating disorders. Luckily, the writer of the film dealt with an eating disorder in her past, and so did Lily Collins (Ellen) who has been open about her struggle with anorexia over her teenage years.
If you’re recovering from an eating disorder and can handle going back in time and reliving a time of your life, watch this film and give your own opinion. If you aren’t, but maybe you know someone who has an eating disorder or is recovering from one, watch this film to walk in their shoes a bit. It may be hard to watch, but it’s realistic and important.
What did you think of To The Bone? Are you happy or upset with how the film tackled the topic? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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