There has been a cacophony of opinions surrounding the new Netflix film To The Bone. Critics claim that To The Bone glamorizes and idealizes anorexia and other eating disorders, while other acclaim the movie for not holding back and revealing the disorder for how horrific it truly can be. The film follows young adult Ellen, brilliantly portrayed by Lily Collins, as she navigates what seems to be the last attempt of recovering from the disorder that has taken over the past few years of her life. She meets with a new doctor who suggests she admit herself to a care facility once more after many failed attempts. Promising that his recommendation would be different than the other facilities Ellen had passed through, she begrudgingly gives it a shot. There she meets a diverse group of patients each suffering from their own unique disorder. That was the film's first major success in my opinion.
Like most things, there is a misconception that having an eating disorder looks like something specific. A fair, malnourished girl quickly disappearing into loose fitting clothing. Though Ellen more or less fits the bill for what society normally expects of someone with an eating disorder, her case was unique and she's in unique company. One patient, Kendra is curvy and she jokes a few times that you wouldn't expect her to have an eating disorder; however, she is in for binging then using laxatives. Another, patient is in for bulimia nervosa but jokes at the start of the film that now it's more nervosa without the bulimia. Ellen slowly befriends the home's only male patient Luke, portrayed by Tony award winning actor Alex Sharp. Luke himself defies eating disorder stereotypes. There is an assumption that that eating disorders only affect females because they are about the desire to be skinny, while in reality eating disorders are a compulsive habit formed typically from an outside problem.
This theme within the film really hit home with me. I have never considered myself to have an eating disorder, but I noticed a lot of the behavior in the film mirrored my own behavior. The most recent encounter being following my breakup with my long term boyfriend and a subsequent breakup with the man I saw after him. Saddened by two failed attempts at having a relationship, I convinced myself almost to the point of compulsion that I was meant to be alone so I could be better. I spent every free moment I had at the gym distracting myself from other, bigger issues. I became vegan and cut meat, dairy, and at one point even gluten out of my diet leaving me to eat raw vegetables most meals. I was convinced I was living a better, healthier life because I cut out the "bad stuff" that was weighing me down.
Still shot from To The Bone
There was one dinner where I met with my aunt and she noticed that I had become painfully thin and expressed concern. I quickly rebounded realizing to do what I wanted to do with my life, I needed to maintain a more substantial diet. I realized that no amount of exercise and diet could make me feel better about my situation and it was up to me to find other ways to fill my life. I am a dancer and an actress and that makes me extremely happy. My days are physically laborious and not having the right diet was detrimental to my progress that's what inspired me to get healthy again. Though I can't say I've suffered from an eating disorder, coming from someone who was starting to downward spiral, I am so thankful I was able to turn things around. I know others aren't so lucky and this film really opened my eyes to that.
One really striking scene that was spot on was the therapy scene where Ellen's doctor asks that her entire family come to therapy. It brilliantly illustrates how misunderstood eating disorders are. Two key things happened, the first being that most of her family members made her disorder entirely about themselves and the second being that her sister just couldn't understand why she can't just eat something. Those two misconceptions I feel play a key part into victims of eating disorders having repetitive cycles. Another striking scene was the look on Ellen's mother's face when she disrobed to get weighed not because of what the scale said but because of how frail and unhealthy Ellen looked and the reality that there was nothing she could do to help. In my opinion all of these moments point to one central theme of the movie that speaks to both the victim and their loved ones. You have to find it within yourself to change. I don't think any amount of support from a loved one can turn the course of a disorder like this and in that respect misguided attempts at support in an effort to protect their own feelings often leave victims feeling lonelier than ever.
Still shot from To The Bone.
In Ellen's both ethereal and haunting dream sequence, Ellen finds herself stuck in a tree while another version of herself lives the life see desires close by. She wakes up exhausted in the middle of the desert and decides to make the change. As discussed throughout the film by her doctor, Ellen had hit rock bottom, and for her, that was the wake up she needed to decide to move forward. The end of this film though somewhat eerie as Ellen is worse off than she's ever been healthwise is uplifting and empowering as she finally makes her own decision to check into the care facility and finally decides to take the next step toward healing.
As the credits rolled, I found myself running my mind through memories and future goals grateful that I am healthy enough to have lived them and that I remain healthy enough to achieve those goals. The end of the movie screams "life's worth living," and sometimes, that's exactly what we need to hear. It is in a way, a celebration of life and teaches us to be gentle on each other and that you never know what your loved one is going through. In addition to the powerful message, the film is at times visually stunning contrasted by simple visuals during moments of intimate and impactful acting. There is so much more I could say about the film, but I'll leave it at this: To the Bone is a must-see. Check out the trailer below!