I admit I decided to watch To the Bone, a Netflix Original, because of various online complaints about controversy and claims of glorifying anorexia.
They’re all wrong.
Netflix originals are either a massive miss or a big hit. To the Bone has an all-star cast, both seasoned and new. It’s one of those movies that’s a rare gem. Due to perceived controversy, it will never be a hit. It’s not easily consumed by the masses, but it’s such a well-made movie that digs much deeper than only the subject matter of eating disorders. It cuts to the bone.
It’s common in the Western Culture to misinterpret eating disorders as sign of selfishness. There’s starving children living on the streets, you better eat everything on your plate! That’s an attempt to emotionally blackmail someone into ceasing their eating disorder addiction. It’s outdated and ignorant. To the Bone doesn’t attempt to make anyone feel bad for being sick.
The question that’s presented for most of the movie is, who’s the one with the real disease? Girls starving themselves as per stereotype, or all of society? The movie’s overall theme demonstrates how any kind of perceived controversy just might be nothing more than the result of dishonesty. Society lies, parents lies to children, and young adults lie to themselves all the time. Herein lies the real disease.
Suffering from anorexia, Ellen, played by Lily Collins, is a tough young woman with a devil-may-care attitude. In a monotone, she repeats all the same tired old excuses for eating disorders. The media. Skeletal models. Society’s expectations. Etc, etc, etc. But that’s exactly what they are – excuses. Ellen is not a victim of excuses. If anyone tries to make her a victim she responds with an attitude that says, “suck my skinny balls.”
Raised by dysfunction, she’s surrounded by mother-figures. An anxious step-mother. A loving half-sister preparing for Ellen’s funeral. An estranged biological mother. And the biological mother’s bold girlfriend.
Her father? We never see him. He’s always tied up at the office. Always late for dinner. He’s just not there.
Ellen has every opportunity to be healthy with all these mother-figures in her life, but she remains disconnected.
After attempting and failing many treatments, Ellen’s desperate step-mother seeks the help of Dr. Beckham, who’s known for unconventional methods. In truth, his methods are simply honest. “Blame is bullshit,” he blurts, and just like that, society’s bullshit is debunked.
Like a robot, Ellen agrees to try another treatment. It’s not just any treatment. This time, it’s a race against death.
Beyond the Controversy, a Diverse Cast
Ellen moves into the house for Dr Beckham’s patients. A varied cast, different races, different genders, and different backgrounds. The dancer. The rebel. The artist. The unicorn. Each has a different reason for their eating disorder. All are utterly normal. They all want the same thing – to feel alive.
Ellen glides between the lives of the other patients. She’s intelligent with a biting sense of humour, and shows a wisdom beyond her years. Yet she rarely applies this insight to her own life. How can a young woman accept love for herself when she can’t see herself as she really is?
Stark and painfully beautiful, the patients laugh and cry among themselves. They’re ghosts in many ways, neither here nor there, struggling between life and death, trying to decide which way to go. They’re all on a journey.
Aren’t we all?
Keanu Reeves has come a long way. It seems he’s finally broken away from the dumb but cute guy typecast. His acting skills have matured and expanded. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in a role where I actually forgot it’s Keanu Reeves. All I could see is Dr. Beckham.
I wouldn’t be surprised, if given the right role, an Oscar nomination is in his future.
Dr. Beckham does everything he can to make his patients feel accepted, but never coddles anyone. He always leaves the ultimate choice up to his patients. Stay or leave. Get healthy or die. The choice is theirs alone.
He makes arrangements to bring his group of misfits to an art exhibit after hours. The good doctor stands in the middle of an exhibit, arms spread wide, and asks, “Can anyone tell me why we’re here?”
“Because we’re alive!”
To the Bone is exclusively available on Netflix.
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