Review: ‘To The Bone’, Netflix’s Eating Disorder Drama

Marti Noxon’s To the Bone is Netflix’s latest controversial drama regarding mental health, this time in the form of eating disorders. Having previously suffered from anorexia herself, Lily Collins portrays Ellen, the main character whose struggles with coming to terms with her dark past and eating behaviours we follow throughout the film.

When we meet Ellen, she has just left a treatment centre that has yet again proved itself unsuccessful in treating her. Here we meet her younger half-sister and step-mother. The family all offer their understanding and support to Ellen, which equally annoys and concerns her.

Despite being a somewhat unconventional family (Ellen’s mum ran away from her dad to live with another woman, and Ellen now lives with her overbearing step-mother and half-sister), the familial love is still very much felt throughout the film.

However, despite the support system in place at home, there seems to be something darker within Ellen that just can’t be rectified. This comes out in uncontrollable behaviours and symptoms – namely obsessively counting calories and doing countless sit ups.

It is in these moments where I think the film triumphs the most, showing some really harrowing scenes that truly convey the worst of anorexia. I definitely think that viewers should make a note to watch these with caution.

Ellen is then sent to a new treatment option, which is supposed to be a relatively innovative and unconventional technique as it is more of a treatment house than medical centre.

Here at the house, she meets several other characters who also suffer from an array of eating disorders. However, I find that where the film falters is in saying anything factual or educational about anorexia (and more importantly its recovery).

This is in contrast to the film’s apparent intention to raise awareness of the disorder. There is nothing documentary-like or medically revealing about the exploration of anorexia, or any of the other eating disorders mentioned in the film.

Instead of the potential for more educational scenes, this potential is replaced with a glamorised cinematic version of a real-life mental health issue: an out-of-the-way treatment home, a romantic plot twist, and a dramatic climax in which one of the patients in the house miscarries a child.

All of this is done without going into depth about anything educational or scientific regarding the complexities of anorexia or its recovery. It almost seems as though these scenes are forcefully and clumsily placed into the film to serve nothing but dramatic effect.

Well, it certainly is dramatic, but the effect should be treated with more caution, especially when considering the main target audience are young girls just like Ellen.

Still, one of the highlights of the film is when Lily’s character discovers that the reason and motivation she should fight anorexia is not for her new friends, mother or even sister – but for herself.

But even still, this is done in an unrealistic and dramatised way: she has what’s almost a near-death experience, and looks down at the harrowing image of her dead body from a birds-eye view.

Then, through the negative image of her starved body, she has some spiritual realisation that she must save herself from the disorder that will inevitably kill her.

However, this alone is not enough to save ‘To the Bone’ from dramatising real-life problems, plots and people.


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