By Tara Fitzpatrick
It is apparently impossible to make a good film about anorexia. Amidst calls to ban director Marti Noxon’s unambiguous film To The Bone, it could be argued that campaigners are right.
At least, it is impossible to make a film about anorexia which is representative of all affected by the disease.
Being someone lucky enough to have never suffered an eating disorder, I approach this review with an awareness of my privilege – it is far from me to say whether the film does anything to combat the social stigma against the mental illness.
However, I found To The Bone to be accessible, funny and refreshingly frank.
The film follows Ellen (played candidly by Lily Collins), a 20-year-old artist battling severe anorexia which has forced her to drop out of college.
What is most shocking about Noxon’s film is the physical lengths at which Collins – a previous eating disorder sufferer – went to in order to embody the character of Ellen. It is a well-documented fact that actresses incur ridiculous pressure to lose weight for even the most healthy of characters making Collins’ transformation all the more unsettling.
In a particularly jarring scene, Ellen steps upon bathroom scales giving viewers a clear and disturbing view of Collins’s exposed spine and shoulders.
The other problem for many with To The Bone is that the characters are portrayed as cool, quirky and alternative. This has a similar ring to the criticism levelled against the character of Hannah Baker in Netflix’s other controversial drama, 13 Reasons Why, which tackles the taboo issue of suicide.
However, rather than glorify the illness as many have suggested, the young characters of To The Bone manage to humanise those living with anorexia as opposed to treating them simply as patients and problems.
That is not to say that the film shies away from exploring the addictive and damaging nature of the illness.
“You’re all full of shit.” Remarks a straight-talking Dr William Beckham (Keanu Reeves), a specialist who cares little for pandering to the concerns of those he treats.
Ellen, having tried various different treatments already, decides to move into Dr Beckham’s recovery home with others suffering similar eating disorders of the same severity.
One of the most touching scenes comes when Ellen enters a family therapy session in which her tearful stepsister admits to the strain Ellen’s anorexia has had upon her own life.
“I think about my prom and I just think oh that’s when Ellen was in hospital. It feels like I don’t have a sister,” states a tearful Kelly (Liana Liberato). The film succeeds in its portrayal of the complex family relationships which anorexia is both a stigma of and heightened by.
There is a lack of diversity within To The Bone. Centred around mostly young, white, thin women, the film does little to demonstrate the diverse amount of people who may suffer the mental illness. Furthermore the plot itself, full of romance and reaffirming messages about the beauty of life is not hugely engrossing.
Any fiction which portrays young people with mental illness will undoubtedly face a backlash. This is because assumptions about its potential to unintentionally encourage or cause similar issues among its audience. The problem is that this theory is patronising towards the young viewers it intends to speak for. Film and television will continue to depict these subjects and the debate will continue to rage on.