To The Bone was a movie I put off for quite a long time since its release date. By its debut, controversy soared among viewers and large platforms that had a significant voice in the media. Whether praised for its candidness or torn apart for its triggering content, it seemed as if most people either loved it to death or despised it to the core. So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I decided to watch it a few days ago.
Before I dove into the actual movie, I researched much about the context surrounding the film. Lily Collins worked with a nutritionist to lose “X” amount of pounds for her leading role and gain it all back in a reasonable method and time allotment. A lot of the story surrounds director Marti Noxon’s personal experience with an eating disorder, hence there is a much more genuine touch to the story than if she were to compile a bunch of anecdotes to base off from. I credit the effort into creating and promoting this film very much so, and it seems to have paid off in reception and viewership.
Okay, so the film itself: is it an accurate portrayal of an individual’s journey with an eating disorder? I don’t think the word “accurate” is the correct term here. In my opinion, it’s much more reasonable to use “understandable”. For the most part, eating disorders are so biochemically individualized to every single person that it is extremely challenging to create a one-size-fits-all image of what an eating disorder looks like. Heck, there are countless types of EDs to choose from, and it’s almost impossible to cram them all into one film.
To answer the question, To The Bone indeed portrays an understandable battle with eating disorders of most kinds. We see anorexia, bulimia, purging, and even a little bit of BED (binge eating disorder). In particular, the movie hones in on Collins’ character Ellen, who is a twenty year-old woman with chronic anorexia. She hops from one clinic to the next, only to be sent away each time due to incompatibility with the programs. However, her journey finally takes a different turn when Dr. Beckham, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, accepts her into his inpatient program, where Ellen meets the faces of other variations of eating disorders. Tragedies strike, discoveries are made, and love may just be in the air.
Here is where the problem lies with this film: perception, empathy, and self-reflection of the viewers based on witnessing the actions of others. Most of the audience has experience with eating disorders themselves, and met the film with disappointment, fear, pride, or even more lust for “thinspiration” and tips. Here are a few cases in which this was so:
- People believed that the protagonist should not have been overbearingly gaunt as Collins appeared, because it would be too stereotypical and would give the false message that ED patients have to be worryingly skinny. Eating disorders do not discriminate against any size number or specific waist circumference. However, Ellen’s fellow patients do look like they are at relatively normal body weights, which compensates for Ellen’s barely there image.
- Others thought that the eating disorders in the film was almost played off as a joke–otherwise, things the patients reinforced each other to continue as a means of bonding with each other. If anything, this offended a lot of people who have dealt with eating disorders themselves.
- Triggers, triggers, and more triggers. The worst of them comes in the form of a compliment on Ellen’s appearance, which only encourages the maintenance of such a low body weight.
- Lastly, some viewers were under-whelmed by the emphasis on Ellen’s deteriorating health, worrisome appearance, and her Tumblr of dark art rather than her actual habits. Being a “calorie-Asperger’s” and a sit-up addict is unsettling, and I was surprised that Ellen’s family mentioned little to nothing about any of these.
You may be thinking, okay, this is good to know, but what did YOU (as in me) think of the film? Personally, I related to a lot of the obstacles and accomplishments that the characters experienced with their eating disorders. On the other hand, I did not feel as triggered as I initially thought, which is a good sign, given that eating disorders are extremely destructive to the mind and body. There were scenes that did portray these disorders in a seductive manner, but maybe they weren’t meant to be seductive. I agree with a lot of the let-downs said above, of course, and I think they speak for themselves loudly enough for me to reiterate them.
All around, To The Bone is not a bad movie. I actually enjoyed watching it and resonated with a lot of difficulties that the characters underwent. Though this film will inevitably serve as a reinforcement for ED victims to continue with their habits, the entire purpose of this film is to share some insightful parts about eating disorders that strike resonance. I also snuck in exercise when I wasn’t supposed to and when it just wasn’t necessary. I too saw a number on the scale that made me panic, even though people my height could only maintain that weight if they were cutting for a bikini competition. Likewise, I felt misunderstood by my loved ones because of mental manipulation. I as well desired such a physique that was almost impossible to attain, because with every step forward, it was five or even ten steps ahead. More importantly, along with the characters, I wanted to escape these habits, but faced challenges in doing so.
Now, I don’t recommend this movie to everybody, mainly for triggering reasons. I think that most current ED victims should abstain from any possibly triggering content in general, or at least reach a mental state where they feel ready to look into anything like this. There are also a lot of other movies and documentaries with realistic depictions of eating disorders–my personal favorites being Thin and Feed–that do not have as much visual “inspiration” to fear. Nonetheless, To The Bone does the job when it comes to showcasing the complications of eating disorders and how harsh realities can be blinded by them.