Arts & Entertainment Editor
With the recent upheaval in all spectrums from politics to healthcare to media, it is no wonder the popular movie streaming site, Netflix, is receiving the brute end of extreme opinions. The latest movie release by Netflix, “To the Bone,” is already gaining backlash from critics and movie watchers alike – adding it to the list of controversial streaming releases in 2017.
“To the Bone,” originally one of this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Movie Contender, was bought out by Netflix and released worldwide in mid-July. The film features the struggles of Ellen, a 20-year-old college dropout facing anorexia. After a failed attempt at inpatient and therapy, Ellen, played by Lilly Collins, moves in with her step-mom and dad after her mother and girlfriend ask her not to live with them. Ellen’s step-mom persuades her to be treated by a well-known psychologist – Dr. William Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. The rest of the film is about Ellen’s trial in a second inpatient house with four other young girls and one boy.
Though harmless as the topic may seem, many feel the movie romanticizes eating disorders by showcasing acts of excessive exercise, reducing food-intake, calorie-counting and multiple forms of purging. However, such critiques are nothing new for Netflix. Only a few months prior, the release of “13 Reason’s Why” was bombarded with negative ratings due to its controversial coverage of a depressive and suicidal teen.
Yet the real question is, how might this movie offend or glamorize eating disorders?
As an objective viewer, “To the Bone” is a highly detail oriented film, with research done prior to production. There should not be many points of contention, other than the fact that they revealed the main character’s body a few times in the film and an entire full-body shot once – possibly glamorizing the idea of thinness. Other than this minor issue, the film places research and experience at the forefront of its production and even begins with a trigger warning for its viewers.
“To the Bone” is not a documentary, so it does not state facts. It instead opts to reveal the struggles and symptoms of a person with an eating disorder in a subtler fashion. In the beginning of the film, Ellen tells her step-sister all the caloric counts for the food on her plate. Calorie counting is a common side effect for many people with eating disorders because the fear of becoming overweight turns into an obsession. Another example of Ellen’s need for control is the way she constantly checks the size of her arms by placing her middle finger and thumb around her upper arm.
Other common symptoms besides weight-obsession and control are discussed. When asked, Ellen tells her new doctor that she does not exactly recall the last time she had her menstrual cycle, which points to amenorrhea, or the loss of a period from a severe reduction in body weight. Ellen even suffers from depression and irritability, which can be offshoot issues characteristic of people with eating disorders.
“To the Bone” also accurately shows inpatient therapy. When a person is severely underweight, potentially causing health risks, they are sent to an inpatient house or put on an IV for forced food intake. Both treatments are shown in the film, along with varying types of therapy.
Though the film is gritty, nothing shown is fabricated or unnecessary, just as the directors and actors intended. “To the Bone” was written and directed by Marti Noxon, who created this film based on his own experiences with the disorder. Also, Lilly Collins suffered from anorexia in her teenage years, and has candidly discussed her struggles in a Vanity Fair Interview.
So, where could issues arise if the portrayal is an honest experience?
Recently, it seems that any movie discussing a controversial subject, such as eating disorders and suicide, are romanticizing the problem. Part of this line of thought is that many movie watchers think putting emphasis on a taboo subject is wrong because it attracts people to follow through with these lifestyles. However, both issues are mental illness, and are not personal choices, but become ingrained ways of thinking due to popular media, home life or genetics.
Instead of critics asking the question if a movie is romanticizing a controversial topic, maybe they should be asking if they are accurately representing the symptoms and struggles that a person generally goes through during a disorder. If they did, many viewers would understand that “To the Bone” successfully showed the life of a person severely trapped in her disease. It is accurate to say the film does not sugarcoat the issue but is opening a conversation for many of the voiceless young adults that are afraid to start their own conversations.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help from your primary doctor.