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To the bone

To the bone

To the bone

19 August 2017

While confronting, Netflix film To the Bone offers an important window into the issue of eating disorders.

Reviewed by Jessica Morris

The new Netflix film To The Bone wasn’t announced without controversy. Following the success of the series 13 Reasons Why, which graphically portrayed suicide, there were concerns that To The Bone would glamorise eating disorders and trigger people experiencing them.

That being said, To The Bone has shown itself to be a quality film in its storyline, acting and soundtrack. However, as the content warning at the beginning of the film suggests, it must be watched with caution.

Starring Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) as the stubborn and quirky 20-year-old Ellen, we are introduced to her when she is near breaking point. Having just come out of her third round of inpatient care, as she refuses to follow her treatment plan to recover from Anorexia Nervosa.

Collins’ performance is hauntingly beautiful. The fact the actress has struggled with an eating disorder in the past makes it all the more realistic – often to a fault, and shots of her emaciated body and damaging behaviours are difficult to watch. Yet in this, the strength of her character shines through, and we begin to barrack for Ellen, willing her to believe the voices around her that tell her she is most beautiful when she is healthy.

Once Ellen is introduced to unconventional specialist Dr. Beckham (played by Keanu Reeves), her course is set for her fourth round of inpatient care, but this time it’s different; she is not only encouraged to attend family therapy, but she befriends her fellow patients, most notably the vivacious dancer Luke (Alex Sharp) who isn’t put off by her prickly air.

What follows is a challenging tale about Ellen’s journey to life or death; culminating in a teary encounter with her somewhat estranged mother (played by Lili Taylor) where she is literally fed with a bottle.

Why is this important viewing for Christians? To The Bone doesn’t display any religious references at all, and there is no mention of the source Ellen’s innate worth and beauty being in God. However, as it’s estimated that 4 per cent of the population experience eating disorders at any time, many being in the Church, it is essential viewing for us.

Young people will undoubtedly flock to watch this, much like they did with 13 Reasons Why, making it crucial for young-adult leaders and parents to be properly informed about its content and purpose.

It’s important to note that while To The Bone is important viewing, it is not perfect. Ellen’s behaviours, conversations around body image, calorie counting, and self harm could be triggering for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. It also portrays the effect of an eating disorder on pregnancy, which is confronting. This should be noted before allowing any teen to view the film. The values portrayed also routinely fall outside of the Biblical world view when it comes to sexuality and language.

The depiction of inpatient therapy is also flawed; for instance, allowing patients to be in a romantic relationship and letting them eat “whatever they want” as long as they maintain their goal weight is not necessarily common practice or healthy.

It’s not perfect, but the overarching hopeful, yet realistic tone of To The Bone means it does not glamorise eating disorders, and its finale where Ellen must decide to literally swallow courage or pass away will hit close to home for many people who have experienced mental illness.

In talking about To The Bone with teens and young people, we can use this as a doorway to discuss the source of our worth and beauty in Christ. The decision to embrace healing and recovery, not just spiritually, but also physically by entering rehabilitation, treatment and counselling numerous times are timely for this generation, and can create a deeper empathy and understanding in Christians of all ages about this debilitating issue.

A smart, heart-breaking and timely film, it is important Christians educate themselves around eating disorders, and To The Bone is a good place to start, allowing us to be better equipped as individuals and as a Church to help overcome the epidemic in and out of our doors.

To The Bone is on Netflix now and is rated MA15+.

If you or a loved on are experiencing an eating disorder, please call The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.

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