After first hearing about the wildly controversial Netflix film To The Bone, I thought there was hardly anything good to expect from it. However, my dismissive first impression turned out to be quite wrong.
To The Bone is a raw, emotional adaptation written and directed by Marti Noxon that showcases an inspirational journey loosely based on her personal struggles. It reminds us that we are all capable of anything and that the most important factors in recovery are having a tenacious willpower and a support system. Noxon defies all the norms of a storyline featuring a mental illness/eating disorder by skillfully avoiding the “miracle-cure” aspect of the journey. In fact, she makes sure to put the protagonist, Ellen (Lily Collins), through every dimension of hell imaginable.
The movie takes place in California where after yet another failed stay at a group home, Ellen is sent to be under the care of the unorthodox Dr. Beckman. Immediately, we’re introduced to the personalities and struggles of the other members of the house, especially of the very charming and very boisterous Luke. His presence at first made me a little skeptical because I was worried the film would fall into the destructive and unhealthy “the boy will make it all better” cliche, but thankfully it didn’t. Ellen is not saved by Luke. In fact, he is more of a checkpoint in her journey. He serves as a reality check as much as Dr. Beckham does.
Both characters are reminders that her eating disorder is very real and very dominant in her life. Luke does not play into the savior complex.
Not once is Ellen given an easy way out with her eating disorder because that just wouldn’t be realistic. The film instead delves into a level of personal realness that I was astounded to experience. I felt the pain through every nerve in my body because “getting better” has become such a relative term. “Getting better” to one serves a completely different purpose to another. We’re allowed to resonate with Ellen, but not in the way she decides to heal. That part, Noxon, leaves for us to experience on our own.
Collins gives meaning to her character and allows us to feel it all: the hurt, the denial, the loss of control. We’re given the ability to freely enjoy the catharsis she takes us on without having to sweep our emotions under the rug. We’re given an eating disorder in its most deadly stages. The depiction isn’t filled to the brim with gory, back-to-back scenes of Ellen openly destroying herself. However, it is still packed with blunt realness as we are witnesses to her painful relapses.
The film puts every character’s world on a spiral and details to the needle point how destructive an eating disorder can be not only to ourselves but also to everyone around us. Even Luke sees that his world is falling apart right before his eyes and finds that he has nothing else to look forward to — he has nothing to get better for.
To The Bone takes eating disorders and gives it a platform that could have never been imagined. While it definitely is vital to young women, audiences of all ages and genders can watch it to learn about what it means to “get better” for Ellen.To The Bone is a vivid reminder that we are each given the choice of what we want “getting better” to mean for us.