To the Bone (2017)

To the Bone

Director & Writer: Marti Nixon.

Stars: Rebekah Kennedy, Lily Collins, Dana L. Wilson, Keanu Reeves.

Rating: 4/5

To the Bone has received A LOT of negative press from reviewers who have only seen the trailer, therefore after reading another dumb review about the trailer this morning (from somebody who had only seen the trailer), I decided to check out the film on Netflix for myself.

I’m glad I did.

As an ED surviver myself, I wasn’t triggered.

“You know the way sharks have to keep swimming otherwise they’ll die if they stop?” – Ellen describing her step mother’s compulsive need to talk.

Collins plays Ellen, a 20 year old woman, whose life becomes stagnant due to her constant battle with anorexia. After her fourth stint in hospital, her step-mother feels that their only option as a broken family, is to send Ellen to the infamously unconventional Doctor Beckham for help. Dr Beckham, played by Reeves is able to connect to Ellen, because apart from her half-sister, Dr Beckham is the only person in Ellen’s life who doesn’t talk at her, or treat her like cotton wool.

The relationship between the two sisters, Ellen and Kelly (played by Liana Liberato) is extremely endearing and realistic. At their first family dinner when Ellen returns from hospital, they joke about Ellen’s ability to be able to count calories in everything (including bogey!), because that’s what families do in awkward situations to avoid talking and dealing with reality. A little bit later on, while walking off the calories Kelly jokes that Ellen looks like shit, however it’s not until much later on in the second act of the film, that Kelly finally admits how frightened she’s been, as well as ashamed of her sister’s illness.  This is during a very difficult family therapy session for Ellen, who surrounded by many women who love to talk over and at her but don’t seem to do much listening to her. 

What I loved most about this film is the psychology behind it, which many viewers and critics seemed to miss.

Ellen was abandoned by her mother Susan (played by Carrie Preston) who has Bipolar Disorder, and from a very young age is forced to live with a father who is never there (we never even meet him). This young woman is severely punishing herself for the mistakes made by the adults around her, and is taking that punishment out on her body.

“What you crave is the numbing of the thing you don’t wanna feel” – House counsellor. 

When Dr Beckham accepts Ellen as a patient, she must complete some time as an inpatient in a home with other patients who are on various paths to recovery. I appreciated the inclusion of a woman of colour as you RARELY see this on film. My eating disorder wasn’t diagnosed until my late-twenties and that was by accident – this was after the height of my bulimia and over exercising in my adolescence, however in my late-twenties I was still occasionally binge-ing and then starving myself, and I happened to be going through a telephone referral for psychodynamic therapy for my childhood abuse when eating habits came up.

“I’m sorry that I’m not a person anymore and that I’m a problem!” – Ellen

You become addicted to the feeling of punishment, in order to escape the pain you’re escaping, which I presume many people didn’t get with To the Bone. The adults around you fail to realise that they are the problem because they were the catalyst; all they can see is you hurting yourself and they cannot understand why.

I also think that although Ellen does have a love interest in the film – Luke (charmingly played by newcomer Alex Sharp), the fact that she doesn’t choose to live for him but for herself, is also extremely important, because it shows empowerment. Up until this final act she’s lost everything and then she chooses the hardest thing to do – which for her is to swallow her courage.

Considering the film is made by people who have struggled and walked the journey themselves, to criticise their work is more than throwing shade. This film portrays men and people of colour with EDs, which mainstream Hollywood doesn’t do. This needs to be commended.

Also, in no way does it glamorise ED. In fact, it demonises it, and furthermore highlights mental health awareness. However, through that pain, people find companionship and peace of mind – perhaps for the first time in their lives.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely encourage you to check it out.


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