To The Bone

The first image from the film is a trigger warning and believe me, take heed. To The Bone is a serious, unflinching look at eating disorders that will absolutely be upsetting to each and every one of us, but particularly to those suffering from or recovering from eating disorders themselves.

Lily Collins, herself a survivor of eating disorders, plays Ellen, a young woman still very much in the throes of anorexia. The film shows her getting treatment in a centre run by Keanu Reeves, which should tell you all you need to know about how inauthentically the healing is portrayed. In reality, treatment is heavily regimented, usually in a medical setting. Eating disorders are the most deadly of mental to-the-bone-sundance-e1495026297494illnesses, no one’s going to let an emaciated Lily Collins push a fish stick around her plate for dinner. And they’re also very difficult to treat because unlike drinking, you can’t simply give up food. You have to learn to eat in moderation. Eating disorders are often (but not always) about control. Often there is some type of childhood abuse that accounts for someone wanting very much to exert control over their bodies now.

This both is and isn’t the case with To The Bone, but the family dynamics are a strong point of the film. Ellen’s family situation is sad and disjointed. Family therapy does not go well. Her father is absent, her mother can’t deal anymore, so support is provided by a step-mother who maybe doesn’t have the closest of relationships with her husband’s tiring and trying daughter. Some of you may find this movie enlightening. Certainly I believe that Ellen and her disorder have been portrayed empathetically. But it’s a tough watch that could definitely be a hardship for some, and may glamourize a terrible disease for others. This is a film to be watched only with care, and preferably in the company of others.

Based on writer-director Marti Noxon’s own experiences with anorexia as a teen, the film forced Collins, in recovery for eating disorders, to lose 20lbs. She did so with the “help” of a nutritionist, but there’s nothing healthy about a young woman already on the brink of being too thin being asked to lose up to a fifth of her body weight. I hate that movies do that and I can’t imagine that graphic shots of protruding bones and skeletal characters is putting anything but negativity into the world. And it doesn’t help that none of the other characters are put into any kind of context. They help show that eating disorders are not just the stuff or rich white girls, but by keeping those characters one-dimensional, we do them a disservice. The thing is, even with good intentions, sharing stuff like this can be dangerous. Details about how to purge or count calories can come across as tips; Collins’ skin-and-bones frame can be seen as aspirational. And I suppose this is where we ask ourselves: is this film doing more harm than good? What is responsible film making? Without knowing the answers, I do know that I am not comfortable recommending this film without some heavy caveats.

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18 thoughts on “To The Bone

  1. stephen1001

    Schools have definitely put ’13 reasons why’ in the more harm than good category – I hadn’t heard of this one before, sounds like To the Bone might be (even if unintentionally) in there as well

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  2. Lara/Trace

    This reminded me of the book by Portia deRossi who wrote an instruction manual for her eating disorder. And kids look up to these people? OMG, Jay. It’s a crisis. Movies only feed the insanity of thinness.

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  3. Snoskred

    The only actual treatment I could see in this film seemed to be taking these kids to an rain art installation. And something about points, if you do well on the scales you earn points, or something along those lines.

    What bothered me more than anything else was the apparent lack of a point to this movie. Was it meant to be along the lines of carpe diem without actually saying that?

    Overall, I was not a big fan of this film. And I am not at all a fan of making someone who is recovering from an eating disorder lose weight for a movie. Nope. Just nope. 😦

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  4. Brittani

    I want to see this. I’ve seen Netflix get a lot of flack for this film, but I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t shy away from showing mental illness just because someone might “get ideas” from it.

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  5. The Chaos Realm

    I thought about watching this, but have put it off for now. My best friend (and only real friend) in high school was anorexic, and I contacted her parents and let them know that I thought she might have a problem. I saw my friend a few days later at school and she chewed me out for backstabbing her, and that her parents were forcing her to go to a clinic for eating disorders. She never talked to me again, and I lost my only friend. But it was worth paying that price, I feel.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yikes, that’s really rough. I wonder if she realizes now what a loving place that came from. Sometimes taking care of people means doing something they don’t like.

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  6. sati

    Great review, very insightful and responsible. I think I may give this a shot for Keanu he looks like he is playing a cool character. It’s not OK that Collins had to lose weight given her problems, though. That’s just playing with fire

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  7. Sarca

    I just watched this last night. I was confused by the messaging…here, this unconventional half-way house allows patients to eat or not eat whatever they want…and weigh them with them aware of their weight too (don’t they have them not facing the scale?). What’s the point of this place? I didn’t get it. I kept drawing contrasts between this and the HBO documentary, THIN (a much better film). I am also disappointed reading that Collins, having suffered from an eating disorder, had to lose weight for the role. None of this is good.
    About the only thing I noticed was Keanu talking in a normal voice instead of that stilted “I’m Batman” deep throat thing he does all the time.

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  8. Pingback: TIFF’s Famous Dates | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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