Before I begin this review, I want to extend my praise to the cast and crew for bringing the issue of eating disorders into the public eye. In a time where media is by and far the largest platform for reaching youth, the population most at risk for and ignorant to the reality of eating disorders, making a Netflix film about this issue is a daunting task. While I didn’t find this film to be executed properly, I do recognize the tremendous time and effort that went into this project and that was devoted in eating disorders in general.
As an eating disorder survivor, I eagerly awaited the release of “To The Bone” on Netflix. In the weeks before its arrival, I read up on the production process and how the project came to be. I found out that Lily Collins lost an extreme amount of weight for this role, something I found very unsettling and appalling. Lily Collins has a history with an eating disorder. This, in my opinion, is a vital factor to make note of. If a project about eating disorders, I’d prefer to have a recovered survivor working closely with the staff, even better as the main asset. This ensures a true and honest portrayal. However, producing a visual project (as opposed to a literary piece), is much trickier. I am aware that not all eating disorders leave their mark on the physical body. I understand that eating disorders are a disease of the mind, and that while the body plays a large role, not all eating disorders sufferers are walking around at a deadly weight. But in the case of “To The Bone”, where the main focus was anorexia, the film required a deadly ill body. Having Lily Collins achieve this look is sickening. I don’t know the details as to how she went about obtaining her protruding bones or empty eyes, but I have no doubt that starving herself and under-nourishing her body were important assets to this mission. And while the film does not directly promote this, us survivors know what went on behind closed doors. It’s appalling, to say the least.
So now we’ve established that the main actress had to fall back into her eating disorder to achieve this role. Triggering. Very. As for the film itself, even more triggering. I’ve been recovered and stable for years; I can confidently assert that triggers are very far and few between for me. But for those young men and women fighting tooth and nail every day for their life, manifesting all of their will into their recoveries, this film is NOT for them. The characters blatantly engage in behaviors. Their conversations, their actions, and their mannerisms all accurately depict various eating disorders. Those struggling to break away from such do not have any need to be exposed to them. Watch at your own, cautious, discretion.
As for the logistics, I’m pretty disappointed. Full disclosure, I’ve been inpatient twice. I’ve participated in two outpatient programs, have had my fair share of therapists and dieticians, and have spent hours of my life in support groups and group therapy sessions. Just this past summer, I was formally educated by a credible eating disorder staff on the exact procedures concerning treatment placement and the criteria. For those who aren’t familiar, there are essentially three levels of treatment that those with an eating disorder decide between. The first is outpatient care, which is an umbrella term for a treatment team consisting of a dietician, therapist, and psychiatrist (can have other professionals as well), or refers to a partial hospital program (PHP). PHP is structured so that you spend the majority of your days and meals at the hospital in program, but are free to go home at the end of the day and are responsible for remaining meals. The next is residential treatment. This refers to a home setting where those who are admitted are not medically critical but still need support in their recovery. In residential, there is a staff that works with you in groups for therapy and there is support for your meals and exercise habits. The goal of this setting is to help you transition into the real world as a recovered person. The final option is inpatient treatment, which tends to be utilized when the person is in critical medical condition. The main goal here is to restore necessary weight first and then focus on the mental aspect of the illness later, when the person is medically stable.
In the film, Ellen is shown in a condition that is clearly very dangerous. She could die at any moment, and there are characters that voice this fear. However, despite this factor, Ellen is placed in a residential-like setting. In this particular home, there is very minimal structure. The reason for this, I honestly have no clue. I don’t know what message the writers were possibly trying to convey. Ellen is dying, and what she needs is extreme structure. Where she should be is INPATIENT, where a team of doctors will restore her weight and save her life long enough for her to THEN step down to a house-setting. The fact that Ellen gets to live in a house where there are other house members engaging in such obvious behaviors, with no structure or rules, is appalling. Nobody is REQUIRED to eat; they are just encouraged. Nobody’s language is monitored. In real treatment settings, weight, numbers, food, etc. are OFF LIMITS. Here, everyone speaks freely and only about behaviors and food obsessions. The portrayal of treatment was inaccurate to the extreme.
There is also no storyline. I felt as if I sat there for almost two hours and nothing happened. I didn’t feel myself attaching to any of the characters. I was by no means moved by Collins’ performance; if anything, I found it distasteful. There are too many plots that begin and then lead nowhere. There are too many details that need to be explained but aren’t. Everything seems half-thought out. I’m left with a surplus of questions. The details of Ellen’s family are far-fetched and while they are plausible, they don’t fit into the story. The writers placed them in there but never fully developed them. Everything seems lost, empty, and pointless. Oh, and there is not one person who makes significant and commendable progress in their recovery. Great.
Upon finishing the film, I’m not left with anything. I’m not moved, I’m not encouraged, and I’m not proud. I’m disappointed. This was a project that had the potential to do so much, to speak volumes to the importance of breaking the stigma, of showing pro-ana youth what they’re REALLY in for. There is no message. There is barely any character growth. By the end, Ellen undergoes a reality check and is ready to recover.
But then it ends.
The writers obviously intended for this to be a ray of hope, to show the viewer that now Ellen will go on and fully recover. However, this is not serving any justice to the reality of relapse and recovery. Speaking from experience, with an eating disorder, a surge of confidence is not enough. I have had countless relapses, some big, some small, but all were the end product of a reality check like Ellen’s. Maybe this is the time that Ellen REALLY does it, really recovers. While it pains me to say this, it’s more likely than not that this is temporary, and the eating disorder will wiggle its way back. The writers don’t disclose this, of course, because that’s not captivating to an audience. They want a happy ending. They want a fantasy.
Overall, I’m deeply unhappy with this film. It’s inaccurate, filled with false hope and tries too hard to be intriguing and hold an audience. The main goal of such a project should have been to educate, to reveal the depths and truths of life with an eating disorder. If this is thought to be too brutal (which it is), then a film should not have been taken on in the first place. “To The Bone” was a terrible excuse for Lily Collins to fall back into her eating disorder.