I wanted to write about something a bit different on the blog today. Last week I watched a controversial movie called To the Bone that recently launched on Netflix, and I have some thoughts that I want to share with you all today.
To the Bone is a drama about writer and director Marti Noxon’s battle with anorexia nervosa. Marti’s character’s name is Ellen, who is played by actress Lily Collins, the daughter of musical artist Phil Collins. The movie documents Ellen’s life as she enters a new treatment facility lead by a quirky (and snarky) doctor, played by Keanu Reeves.
I want to start off by saying that I am in no, way, shape or form a medical doctor, personal trainer, nutritionist – nothing like that – and this review is simply my thoughts on the movie and my own experiences centred around disordered eating.
Of course, if you are actively struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder, I would caution you against watching the film as it does include sensitive matter.
I think it is worth speaking out about eating disorders as it is something that is prevalent in today’s world, no matter your age, gender, race, etc. Now, I’m not going to rattle off a list of everything they did right or wrong, because I strongly feel that it is not black and white, and I do not have the background to be speaking upon that. For me, there were a lot of grey areas and it took me a few days to wrap my head around everything before I could sit down and write this review.
With all of that said, I will get into my thoughts.
To the Bone primarily depicts the story of Ellen, the main character, though she is surrounded by others in the treatment facility that are struggling with an eating disorder of their own. The movie had a male character (yay for representing males in a normally female-dominated area of television), a few girls struggling with bulimia, and a girl that had a binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorders have their own physical and mental impacts, and I think it would have been insightful to have more of this character’s story. However, I will say that the movie was a bit stereotypical in the sense that Ellen’s character was your average Caucasian young girl struggling with an eating disorder. Nod your head if you have seen this before. That being said, it does not negate that her story should be told, because it absolutely was powerful and emotional, as one’s journey would be in this case. On the other hand, the binge eating disorder character was an African American girl, but she did not have a lot of dialogue other than a few lines here and there. In this space I think we need more diversity, as it is important to show that eating disorders do not care if you are black, white, purple, blue, or green.
Now, one thing that I do think the film did well was show the family dynamic that one may be in while struggling with an eating disorder. Family dynamics are so different for everyone, and I think they did a nice job of showing the concerns, hesitations, and emotions that a family may be going through. For Ellen, her parents had separated and she was currently living with her father and step mom – though her dad never made an appearance in the movie. This lead me to believe that her father did not play a big role in her life, as he was always stuck at work or had to be at an early meeting when Ellen, her step-mom and sister were at an appointment, or simply sitting at the table for dinner. Her biological mom lived in another state and was married to another lady, where they owned horses together and did not see Ellen very often. Note: The movie did a wonderful job of CLARIFYING that one’s parents do not cause the problem – I found this to be especially powerful as, putting myself in a parents’ shoes, they may want to blame themselves for why their daughter or son has an eating disorder. The doctor had mentioned this during one of their family appointments, and I think that is critical. One thing that struck a positive note with me was the role Ellen’s sister, Liana, played. Liana was compassionate and supportive, but TRUTHFUL and was not afraid to tell Ellen her thoughts. She kept the door for conversation open, which made me feel as a viewer that she could be easily approached should Ellen need the support. Her step mom was concerned, though perhaps a bit stand-offish near the beginning as I gather her and Ellen do not have a warm and fuzzy relationship. It was nice to see how the step mom’s character evolved through the movie.
Lily Collins did an excellent job in this role, though I do think it is important to note that she personally struggled with an eating disorder. This made me feel very, very uneasy. As someone who has had bouts of orthorexia (if I absolutely had to label it, which is the obsession with healthy food) from high school up until about 4 years ago, this made me wonder how Lily dealt with playing such a strong part given her history. I read a few articles online about this, and what I took away is that Lily wanted to play a role that “paid tribute to the 16 year old girl that I was and make a movie that would’ve helped open my eyes.” I can definitely understand that, though one thing that does not sit well with me is that she had to lose weight for this role. Now, I can understand because of the character she is playing, but I think for someone with a history of an eating disorder, this could take a turn for the worse and potentially bring up those prior habits. Again – I’m not a doctor and I have no medical explanation for the science or psychology behind all of this, but those are simply my thoughts. Lilly also states in an interview that she “knows [her] limits and was not about to let Ellen’s story take over my [her] own.” In that regard, I do think that it is a good thought to have to separate yourself from the character, though I imagine there could be difficulties trying to do that having lived that struggle before.
Phewf – so, there’s the heaviest bit out of the way.
Ellen slowly develops friendships with those in her treatment centre, though the fact that they threw a love story into the mix with Luke, the male in the house, was a bit unnecessary. I think Ellen’s journey was emotional enough, let alone having her fall for the only male in the treatment centre. Yes, everyone wants to be a hero and help someone that is going through such a hard time, but I felt as though the whole romance thing was not needed. There was an immense amount of turmoil that Ellen was going through, and I feel like the romance almost took away from the story instead of adding to it.
Overall, I feel like To the Bone is definitely an intense film that will get conversation going. That is what we need. We need to get conversation going around eating disorders and food awareness, because there are millions of people that struggle with a situation like this of their very own. I know every situation is unique, though eating disorders are more common than you think. When you think of someone who has an eating disorder, what do you think of? Skinny and thin, right? While that can be true for some people, eating disorders do not discriminate and they take on many different forms. If you have the slightest feeling that you relate to having an eating disorder of your own, please, please, please reach out for help. Or, if you feel that someone around you is struggling, again – reach out to them. Again, I am by no means a medical professional and this is purely my own personal insight.
Thank you guys for taking the time to read this review! If you have seen To the Bone, what are your thoughts? I would love to know in a comment below.