July 20, 2017/
Release Date: July 14, 2017.
When 13 Reasons Why debuted on Netflix earlier this year, talk began amongst parents of teens (particularly), on the dangers of glorifying suicide, and how young viewers would respond to the representation of mental illness and depression.
Delving in to the to mind of suicidal protagonist Hannah Baker, the show became a catalyst for tension around the ‘all-access’ nature of streaming services like Netflix. Could these platforms tackle subjects normally taboo on mainstream television without glorifying their content, or being deemed too ‘instructional’?
Next in line to cause conversation, is To the Bone.
Premiering at Sundance Film Festival and now globally available on Netflix, the feature length film follows 20-year-old Ellen battling anorexia in the face of a subtle family breakdown. In the opening scene Ellen and her fellow patients are mid-therapy session, debating the way magazines sell us cake alongside ‘before-and-after’ transformation stories. Weary of food conversation and being viewed as ‘diseased’, Ellen rebels against the process, and her family seeks an alternative solution to her condition. Enter Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves), the straight talking no nonsense guru/therapist/father figure for teens like Ellen. Won over by his candor, Ellen commits to 6 weeks in his inpatient program, and we’re taken in the world of ‘anorexia rehab’.
If current reviews are anything to go by, it’s hard to make a film about eating disorders and a) not appear to glamorize them, or b) miscommunicate the true experience of those dealing with similar struggles. Writer-director Marti Nixon attempts to address this, basing the film on her own experiences and working in collaboration with fellow sufferers. Including lead Lily Collins, who’s publicly commented on former eating disorders and her strict preparation for the role.
Whether or not To the Bone is considered a ‘good’ film on eating disorders will be up for debate – especially if it’s close to home for its viewer. What I saw though, was a girl bent on self-destruction. She’s all of us who’ve ever felt we’d be better if we ate less or exercised more. Our calorie counting and runs after big burgers suddenly seem like building blocks for larger problems we need to nip in the bud now. The motivations for our choices, like Ellen, become the focus more than their outcome. Why does Ellen feel ‘less than’? Why do we monitor what we consume? Self-regulation and addiction are always symptoms of something greater, and To the Bone has us asking what that may be.
However, when concern around these shows is trending, the word I always here is ‘stigma’, referring to disgrace associated with certain circumstance or qualities. “We want to de-stigmatize suicide”, “we want to de-stigmatize eating disorders.” This is what catches my attention.
Of course we don’t want to see people devalued because of the challenges they face. Opening up conversation is known to be one of the best ways to start getting help, and change public perception. But let’s not normalize the diseases and illnesses themselves. No doubt more shows and movies like these will be made – it’s one of the beauties of TV’s online expansion – yet there’s a risk we become desensitized and start to accept their storylines as acceptable and commonplace. Suicide and death by self-starvation shouldn’t be normal. We’re not meant to be tormented by mental distress and feeling sick at the sight of ourselves. There is a greater life you’re called and designed to live, don’t accept disorder. There is hope, and there is help.
To the Bone is a great asset to dialogue on mental illness and anorexia, but know your life is to be lived to the full. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, beautiful and deigned with purpose. Whatever challenges you may face in the world Christ has already overcome them. When you feel tempted to give it up and accept the mess, know there is always a way out.
If you or anyone you know need help dealing with an eating disorder, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
High point: Ellen coming to see herself for who she really is.
Low point: Witnessing the misguided support of Ellen’s friends and family, and realizing their assumptions are probably far too common.
Best digested with: A GIANT nutritious meal – just get it into you.
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