Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018
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TO THE BONE: No Hope Found

To this survivor, To The Bone had the chance to inspire understanding of anorexia, but ended up being a disappointment.

TO THE BONE: No Hope Found


When I first heard about the coming of this film, I was very interested to see it. It purported to tell a story of an anorexic, young woman through the eyes of To The Bone director and survivor Marti Noxon. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but having survived and recovered from anorexia myself, I was even more curious to see what another survivor could bring.

Messed-up Families

20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins) is the product of a severely dysfunctional family. A bipolar, absentee, mother (Lili Taylor); a overly busy, disengaged father and a step-mother (Carrie Preston), who, try as she might, has no clue who she is, let alone how to help Ellen. Luckily for Ellen, she does have a very sweet and supportive half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato), who is the only one who seems to have anything together.

TO THE BONE: No Hope Found

source: Netflix

To The Bone begins with Ellen at her fourth treatment center. She is kicked out for being a “bad influence” on the rest of the girls. After returning home, what seems like only a few days, her step-mother informs her that if she wants to stay, Ellen must go see a new specialist. Dr Beckham (Keanu Reeves) is supposedly the best and uses “unconventional” methods to help his patients. He insists she go to his inpatient treatment home, Threshold, if she’s going to continue with him.

Who Needs Counseling?

Threshold seems like a good fit for Ellen, at first. The staff there say they know all the “tricks” the patients use to hide their restricting. They take the doors off their rooms so the patients can’t secretly exercise; they lock the bathrooms for 30 minutes after every meal so no one can purge what they’ve eaten; they also check for cutting instruments and laxatives at intake. That is where much of their “expertise” ends.

Most of the patients get away with things like sneaky exercise, purge bags hidden under their beds and using the privilege they’ve earned to go to the movies, as a means to run all the way home. That would never go unnoticed at any professional, in-patient setting I know of.

To The Bone continues with a whole host of strange, sometimes, irresponsible choices. We meet the likable Luke (Alex Sharp), a London transplant and ballet dancer. He is further along in treatment than Ellen and is a fun, charming character. At one point, Ellen is threatened by Luke’s recovery and lashes out at him. Luke goes head to head with her, delivering the best truth of the film, “Sorry if that scares you, but people actually go home sometimes and have a life. Even people with f-ed up families”.

TO THE BONE: No Hope Found

source: Netflix

Everything about the “black and white” thinking of those with eating disorders needs to be challenged -especially by those who understand it most. I had hoped Luke would have been the one to challenge Ellen, but instead, his character becomes a forced, sappy, half-hearted, love interest. When one is so far down in an eating disorder to need in-patient, they have zero capability of giving to any relationship; even friendships.

Another highly agitating point is when Ellen tells another anorexic in her group how many calories are in the tube feeding she was just forced to have. This is something that every anorexic would know not to mention, especially one that has been through four prior treatment clinics, unless they were a sadistically cruel person.

Even a field trip they take as part of therapy, is simply to a museum, of sorts, that has a “rain room”. Apparently this is one of Dr. Beckham’s unconventional methods to help the patients see the joy in life. Huh? I’m not sure about anyone else, but a room that’s set up to rain wouldn’t have helped me understand the point of living while in the midst of my eating disorder.

 What’s It All For?

I was impressed with Noxon‘s extensive knowledge of one of the hallmarks of eating disordered people; disjointed, self centered, in denial families. She hit that right on the head. Also, Ellen’s use of smoking and playing with her food to refrain from eating rang true. Other than that, I’m not really sure what Noxon was going for. I didn’t see a true focus point or theme for To The Bone, nor a true turning point for Ellen.

TO THE BONE: No Hope Found

source: Netflix

According to Dr. Beckham, Ellen was supposedly so lost, he told her family she needed to hit “bottom” before anything could be done to save her. With any addictive behavior, “bottom” is usually the lowest point a person experiences before they change or die. Five treatment centers couldn’t help Ellen, but we’re supposed to believe a random, Jim Morrison-esque, “in-the-desert-out-of-body-experience” dream Ellen has, while visiting her mom, is?

To The Bone: Conclusion

To The Bone had the chance to be something that might be resourceful and inspiring to eating disorder sufferers. It could’ve provided understanding to families forced to deal with it on a daily basis. Instead, it meanders here and there, to and fro, with no real point or resolution. There are no gems of wisdom; no suggestions for healing; not even a way to cling on to Ellen’s story, for hope in making it out of eating disorder Hell.

Ellen’s character, overall, is wholly depressing and contemptible. Believe me, I am keenly aware that this subject matter is not supposed to be happy-go-lucky and that an eating disorder makes one very depressed and sad. However, the way this character is written makes her unnecessarily cruel and unrelatable. When a film is made about such a serious subject, it should be done with the utmost thought, respect and responsibility to the survivors.

As a survivor, for me, it was beyond disappointing.

What are your thoughts?

To The Bone is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Amyana Bartley is a screenwriter and producer. Her company, Queen B. Productions, supports filmmakers of all walks, interested in creating thought provoking, moving projects. As her company grows, she will create "real jobs" for any talented artist, in front of and behind the screen, who is passionate about making a difference using the art of film.

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