Let me preface my review of To The Bone by stating a couple things: I am not a trained mental health or eating disorder specialist, and I am writing based solely on my own opinions and understanding of the complexities of eating disorders. Having never been diagnosed with an ED or undergone treatment for one, I realize my opinions and review of this film bear less weight than the opinions and insights of somebody suffering with an eating disorder or living in recovery from one. Nevertheless, as a mental health advocate who does struggle with depression and anxiety and has previously dealt with poor eating habits and body image issues, I wanted to share my thoughts.
To The Bone Review
By now, most of you have heard of, if not viewed, the latest controversial film released by Netflix: To The Bone.
Written and directed by Marti Noxen and starring actress Lily Collins as Ellen, To The Bone is a semi-autobiographical film depicting a 20-year-old women’s struggle with anorexia nervosa as she hits rock bottom at her (presumably) final inpatient treatment facility.
Both Noxen and Collins have struggled with eating disorders in their teen years, so that knowledge alone—as well as Collins’s significant weight loss in preparation for the film—adds even more depth and controversy to the story.
Overall, I think the film did a respectable job providing a glimpse into the world of somebody who suffers with mental illness and attempting to shed some of the stigma, without glamorizing the disorder. I think it also succeeded in showing the toll an individual’s illness can take on his/her family and peers, and that eating disorders are about so much more than “just eating.”
I want to break up my review by highlighting the positives and ending with some of the aspects that, frankly, worried me or led me to feel they could’ve been tackled in a more productive or realistic light.
What To The Bone Did Right…What #ToTheBone got right... #nedawareness #mentalhealth Click To Tweet
The family dynamic.
Ellen’s sister, Kelly, was perhaps my favorite role. In several scenes, you could feel her pain, frustration, and desire to “fix” Ellen—while simply not fully understanding Ellen’s turmoil or knowing how.
Kelly just wants her sister back. She says on more than one occasion “I don’t get it. Just eat,” and while that may seem like the logical step for a healthy person, it isn’t so easy.
Kelly, too, has to deal with a largely absent father and a turbulent family dynamic, but because eating disorders are comprised of many factors, she doesn’t struggle the way Ellen does.
The realistic portrayal of loss.
I won’t throw out any spoilers here, but let’s just say that within the treatment facility, there is a young woman who seems to be progressing towards recovery and “doing everything right.” Nevertheless, she still suffers a tremendous loss—one that is truly gut-wrenching—which goes to show you that pain exists regardless of your choices to recover.
The diversity of eating disorders.
While I do think they could’ve gone into more detail on why some of the other characters were in treatment, I am glad they included characters of different ethnicities and genders instead of another privileged, white, anorexic girl.
Lucas, Ellen’s pseudo-love interest and an injured ballet dancer, reminds us that eating disorders do not discriminate against gender.
And then there’s Kendra, an overweight African-American woman, who struggles with Binge Eating Disorder and eats nothing but peanut butter at mealtimes.
That recovery is individual—it cannot be forced.
Ellen’s doctor basically says that Ellen will never recover until she hits rock bottom—that she needs to hit rock bottom. While the lack of supervision on his part is dangerous given her frailty, I do understand the sentiment to some degree—i.e., that recovery is hers alone. It can’t be somebody else’s decision.
Where To The Bone Could Improve…What #ToTheBone got wrong... #nedawareness #mentalhealth Click To Tweet
The love interest seemed unnecessary
Lucas was an interesting character, but I don’t like how his flirtation and connection to Ellen appeared to play deeply into her recovery. I have no idea if this storyline is based on Noxen’s own life, but regardless, it did nothing except frustrate me due to its “Hollywood” nature.
Yes, we often seek recovery because of our loved ones, but this sends a dangerous message that love can heal a broken relationship with oneself. Ellen didn’t need a boy, she needed to come to grips with her own demons.
The treatment facility itself was irresponsibly unconventional
I’m a big fan of holistic or unconventional treatment and trying whatever method works for the individual, but the lack of supervision at the home (however “door-less” it was) seemed dangerous to me.
Certain conversations in the film seemed to suggest that other more traditional treatment facilities and procedures weren’t as effective, which could damage somebody’s recovery.
Recovery is a long, tumultuous road—not a single epiphany
While I personally took Ellen’s final, “perfectly gift-wrapped” epiphany to be a spark into the direction of recovery and not recovery in and of itself, I can see how some may view that moment differently.
The ending is somewhat open-ended, but it leads the viewer to believe that Ellen returned to the facility and recovered (of course I hope that’s the case).
Still, it should be said that hitting rock bottom isn’t enough—there will likely be many ups and downs in her journey, and I’m not sure if the film adequately portrayed this. You don’t just decide to heal—you work incredibly hard at it, likely stumbling along the way.
All in all, To the Bone provided an honest look at the complexities of eating disorders.
While I can understand how eating disorder sufferers could have found parts of the film triggering (hell, even I did, at times), it was evident the filmmakers were careful and responsible with images, numbers, and the voyeuristic nature of society’s understanding of eating disorders.
No film will ever paint an entirely accurate portrait of the complexities of an eating disorder, depression, or other condition, but if anything, this film did its job by bringing greater attention to the deadliest mental illness and furthering the conversation.#ToTheBone – an honest review #mentalhealth #NEDAwareness Click To Tweet
[linking up with Amanda for thinking out loud]
So tell me…
- What are your thoughts on the film—if you’ve seen it or even if you have no plans to watch?
- What do you think we can do as a society to communicate the realities of eating disorders and other mental illness without stigmatizing them further?