9:45 am EDT, July 27, 2017

‘To the Bone’ review: A Netflix original film about eating disorders that’s so much more than its trailer

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Warning: To the Bone contains graphic content about anorexia and other eating disorders. It’s shocking, but mostly, it’s enlightening.

To the Bone was praised at Sundance, but when the trailer hit a few weeks ago, it received criticism that it glamorized eating disorders and could trigger people suffering from the illness.

While the trailer paints the movie as a witty comedy of sorts, To the Bone is so much more. There is wit and comedy. There’s also a little romance that doesn’t really go anywhere. Mostly, there’s a rawness to the film that isn’t captured fully by the two-minute trailer.

What it’s about

Lily Collins plays Ellen, a 20-year-old young woman dealing with anorexia nervosa. She’s terrified of gaining weight, so she obsessively counts calories, exercises non-stop, and refuses to eat a single bite of food.

Ellen’s seen it all. Her family’s at a loss, and she’s been kicked out of treatment center after treatment center. Except one. And that is where the story begins.

Ellen’s stepmother takes her to a doctor who specializes in eating disorders. This doctor, played aptly by Keanu Reeves, doesn’t take Ellen’s bullsh*t like the others. He knows every trick in the book. While he knows Ellen’s the type of person who will only be able to recover after she hits rock bottom. It’ll be tough watching Ellen fall, but when she does, she’ll be able to lift herself back up.

The hype

Some criticize the movie for being a how-to manual for eating disorders. While I agree it doesn’t shy away from revealing the lengths people with anorexia or bulimia go to hide their habits, the purpose of showing these moments is to do justice to those dealing with these issues.

The film knows the danger of fetishizing eating disorders. A talented artist who’s encouraged to draw her experiences, Ellen’s posted illustrations of her anorexic body on social media with dire consequences that haunt her.

Quite frankly, I expected To the Bone would show more than it actually does. There are a few choice shots that highlight Ellen’s body—one of which is very disturbing, as it reveals Ellen’s emaciated and starved frame in its entirety.

It’s not gratuitous. Unlike other movies or TV shows like Game of Thrones, which sometimes contain nudity or violence for no reason (remember that sex-position scene where Little Finger reveals his past in the first season?), To the Bone is careful with how it portrays these individuals. Even when we finally see Ellen’s body, it’s not merely for shock value but so she can find the will to live.

Before it starts, the film warns it includes depictions which may be challenging for some viewers. It also states the film was created for and by individuals who have struggled with eating disorders. Both Lily Collins and writer/director Marti Noxon (best known for her work with Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have struggled with anorexia.

So what?

To the Bone is candid about what it’s like to struggle with an eating disorder and hide it from your loved ones. But while we see Ellen take a step to recovery, it stops there. The film ended, and I thought to myself, “OK, but what happens now?”

I don’t have an eating disorder, but I’ve witnessed members of my family struggle with anorexia. It’s a long road to recovery. You constantly battle with yourself. Maybe that’s why To the Bone is difficult to watch, at times. It shows the battles won and lost, but it doesn’t show a clear victory of the war.

If you watch this movie, be prepared to be challenged by it. More importantly, be prepared to talk to someone about it. If nothing else, To the Bone shows us we’re not alone. Each individual struggles with body image issues, so talk to people about that struggle. It may save someone’s life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association Information and Referral Helpline for support.

NEDA’s helpline is a free and confidential service. Volunteers have extensive training and are prepared to help you find information, support, and treatment options.

Call: 1-800-931-2237
Crisis Text Line: text “NEDA” to 741741

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