Despite worldwide outrage, among some praise, Netflix followed the controversial release of 13 Reasons Why, a story about a young woman’s suicide and related ‘tapes’, with a depiction of a young woman’s lifelong struggle with anorexia, and the battles that come with it.
In To the Bone, Lily Collins plays a young woman named Ellen, a character rooted from both briefly highlighted family struggles and her main battle with the harrowing disease of anorexia. As the subject matter of the film is undoubtedly triggering for many, the movie opens with a disclaimer related to its sensitive nature. Despite the warning of its challenging nature, the scenes depicted throughout the film cannot be dismissed by a simple 3 second viewer discretion advisory, as a large portion of shots throughout the movie include close ups of Ellen’s frail and deteriorating body, her personal weigh-ins, and her complex relationship with food.
Although the film teeters on the line of overly exploitative of its sensitive nature, it doesn’t come without good intentions, as both the director (Marti Noxon) and lead actress (Lily Collins) have publicly discussed their personal struggles with eating disorders, and stated that the film’s aim was to “raise awareness and to diminish shame and secrecy” [related to the illness]. Due to the film’s highly anticipated premiere on Netflix, following the release of the (arguably) successful series 13 Reasons Why, there’s no doubt that the Netflix Original sparked discussion upon the widespread issue, something that is essential in awareness among the masses.
Despite achieving the goal in beginning a discussion related to eating disorders and other similar issues, the film falls among other Hollywood productions of sensitive nature in that it often times glamorizes the subject at hand. Then again, it is seemingly impossible nowadays to create a main-stream film discussing various illnesses and diseases without glorifying the characters and lifestyles that portray them. It is valid to bring up the argument that movies like To the Bone may not be as successful if they didn’t portray love stories, comedy, and likable characters, all of which at the same time contribute to the glamorization of harmful subject matter.
In continuation, a majority of the film highlights Ellen’s struggle with treatment and creating positive change related to her disease, by ironically not discussing her actual treatment. Though Ellen accepts treatment at an inpatient household facility, there is little to no discussion of her progress related to her illness. Rather, the film depicts many Hollywood stereotypes related to those who struggle with eating disorders and other related illnesses, all while forcing Ellen’s likable character to get involved in a romantic relationship whilst at such treatment.
Despite all of the film’s downfalls related to glamorization and false depictions of the disease, there’s no doubt that it accomplishes the task of increased discussion upon such. It’s arguable, though, whether the discussion surrounding the film is helpful in aiding educated and helpful awareness about EDs.