By Stephanie Brandhuber
Walk down any street, pass by any shop window, look up at any billboard, and you’ll no doubt be bombarded with images of perfect people, flawlessly plastered in all their 2D glory. Whether it’s an advert for the latest ‘beach-bod ready” diet, or a fashion campaign for the biggest brands on the high street, pictures of the so-called “perfect image” are inescapable. We live in a Photshop age, where false realities encourage unhealthy expectations, which in turn leave us all feeling dissatisfied with our own fleshed-out lives.
Body image is a hugely important topic that continues to be increasingly relevant in our overly vanitised society. Eating disorders plague countless women and men and it is rare that these mental health issues are addressed in effectual, widespread campaigns. It should seem encouraging then to see that Netflix has chosen to shed light on such serious and prevalent issues as body image and mental health. And yet, their feature film, To the Bone which is meant to highlight these issues of concern is nothing but an empty exercise in nothingness, which ultimately is bound to do more harm than good.
The Netflix Original film To the Bone stars Lily Collins as Ellen, an arty anorexic teen who has recently become an in-patient at an unconventional rehab centre, under the medical supervision of Dr Beckham (Keanu Reeves). The suburban treatment centre is full of one dimensional, cut-out characters, each defined by his or her own personal issue – there’s the pregnant anorexic, the anorexic hooked up to a feeding tube, the anorexic who stashes her barf in a bag under the bed. And then there’s Luke (Alex Sharp), a recovering anorexic ballet dancer who is ungracefully directed into playing a male version of a manic-pixie-dream-girl, taking it upon himself to push Ellen to eat and find life worth living.
Not only is the romantic subplot between Luke and Ellen awkwardly scripted and unconvincingly portrayed, but in a film filled primarily with women and whose lead is a woman fighting to find inner strength, To the Bone seems perpetually determined to place men in the driving seat. Luke’s attempts to “help” Ellen seem more like harassment and a needy grasp at control, and likewise, Keanu Reeves’ “sexy” rarely-there Dr. Beckham seems to gain more pleasure in the control he has over his vulnerable patients than he does in actually helping them with their debilitating illnesses.
To the Bone’s biggest crime, however, is its glamorisation of anorexia. Despite Lily Collins’ bone-protruding waif of a frame, it is difficult to get past the fact that she is still a beautiful Hollywood actress. With her Kohl-lined eyes and oversized on-trend fashion, Ellen looks more like the poster-girl for any known fashion brand rather than a young woman suffering from a life-threatening disease. Indeed, Ellen’s portrayal, from her too-cool-for-school attitude to her biker boots is exactly the sort of image seen on pro-ana, thinspiration websites rather than a cautionary depiction of how life-threatening anorexia is. Eating disorders should not be held as a benchmark for beauty, as sadly they so often appear to be in this misguided film.
Director Marti Noxon, who suffered from anorexia herself, no doubt intended To the Bone to be an illuminating look into what sufferers of eating disorders go through. However, her attempts to expose any kind of reality or danger that comes from living with these illnesses are ultimately misplaced and glossed over, leaving us with nothing but an empty shell of a film, void of impact and starved of any kind of positive message.
(Photos copyright: Netflix )