To the Bone: Authentic or Irresponsible?

TRIGGER WARNING: I will be discussing eating disorders throughout this post.

to the bone
Photo: Netflix

Unless you have been living under a social media rock, you’ll be aware that Netflix released To the Bone, its controversial new movie about eating disorders – the first feature-length film on the subject – last week. To the Bone has been at the centre of an online shit-storm ever since its release, and to Google it is to see a stream of think pieces denouncing it as irresponsible and unrealistic side by side with those calling it authentic and moving.

So, which is it?

After watching it and spending much of the past week thinking about it and discussing it endlessly with my friends/anyone who will listen really, I remain unsure. Prior to watching, all I had read were negative reviews, so I went in with the expectation that I would finish it feeling disgusted and low-key bad about myself. Instead, I found I did not hate it.

And so I wondered, am I wrong? So I did what I always do when I find myself mired in problematic subject matter. I read a bunch and asked everyone who would have the conversation with me: What do you think?

The answer? It’s complicated.

The biggest problem that comes up, particularly with the representation of eating disorders on television but also mental health problems more generally, is the issue of glamorisation. It’s uncomfortable but true that as a culture we imagine certain kinds of self-destruction as romantic: drug addicts make the best music, OCD is a great personality trait in a detective and suicide is the hallmark of a great female writer. Equally, a beautiful girl starving herself to death because she just can’t see what everyone else does has its own tragic appeal. And, in as much as Lily Collins’ portrayal of Ellen in To the Bone fits that ideal, with her smart humour and artistic talent, the film is not innocent of this. But as much as Ellen’s character plays to that pre-existing ideal, Marti Noxon, the writer and director has made efforts to undermine it by displaying some of the decidedly un-glamorous side effects of starving yourself to death: the excess hair her painfully thin body grows as it struggles to keep itself warm, the bag of vomit Ellen’s roommate in her treatment facility keeps hidden under her bed and the abject horror of her loved ones when they see her emaciated body, to name a few. Whether or not those efforts are enough is a difficult question to answer.

A lot of negative reviews have picked up the dominance of thinness in the story as a reason why To the Bone is so potentially damaging. Though it’s true that thinness is central, the film also addresses the fact that eating disorders aren’t just about controlling weight, but controlling feelings. For many people, their disorder is way of channelling feelings that they can’t cope with – which is why Luke (yep. There’s a boy in this movie dealing with Anorexia – another aspect of the film I was a fan of) points out that childhood sexual abuse is such ‘a big thing among rexies.’ While I think the film could have got into this more, it did shed some light of the potential reasons behind Ellen’s disorder (her family are a total disaster, her mother also struggles with her mental health, etc). It also demonstrated this through the means of romance – which a lot of people took issue with, but was one of the parts of the film that actually worked best for me. To get in a romantic relationship is to feel all the feelings – they are unavoidable. To an expert avoider like Ellen, this was completely terrifying and her acknowledgement of that terror was a big moment for her and a step toward recovery. She needed to feel all the feelings.

However, it’s also true that the extreme bodies shown in To the Bone are not representative of what many people struggling with eating disorders actually look like, though the effects on their health are equally as devastating. The emaciated bodies that are the predominant idea we have of what an eating disorder looks like discourages many who have such a disorder from seeking help because they don’t believe they are sick enough. In this sense, the film absolutely perpetuates the single story of eating disorders. Christina Grasso wrote a fantastic piece about this over at Style Caster that I highly recommend.

So I’ve ended up right back where I started: on the fence. There were moments in this movie that felt achingly authentic, right next to others that, on reflection, I feel uncomfortable with. On the one hand, I take the information that this is a story that Marti Noxon wanted to tell about herself as someone who once struggled with an eating disorder to mean the film has nothing but good intentions. On the other, the cynical part of my brain worries that perhaps that fact is held up as a means to preclude criticism.

I would like to think that the conversation will grow and that To the Bone will be a story of what it’s like to have an eating disorder, rather than what so often happens, and it becomes the story. Either way, I feel it’s one with value, as a discussion starter and simply, a film.

Have you seen To the Bone? What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s great, terrible, or are you on the fence?

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Things I Loved About Ghostbusters

I went to see Ghostbusters this weekend and put all my anxieties to rest: It’s great, you guys. I can’t believe I let all the negativity around it make me doubt.

Now I think about it, gender-swap Ghostbusters was really the only way to take the franchise forward. Casting four women allowed it to break free from its previous form. Remaking the film with four new guys would have been a pointless endeavour. Four poor, overwhelmed actors would have been forced to try and imitate the magic that Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Ernie Hudson created.

No one wants to try and be the new Bill Murray.

Nope. The only way forward was the do something completely new.

There is so much to say about this movie. But for now, here’s a brief overview of the five things I liked the most:

Ghostbusters

Lady scientists taking on the (ghost) world

I’m pretty sure by now everyone has seen the picture of Kristen Wiig and the grinning little girls at the Ghostbusters premiere. If not, Google it. That shit will make you emotional.

The fact is having four women take on a paranormal threat and save an entire city is not something we have seen before. And it’s so awesome to watch.

I grew up watching films that were mostly about boys, rewriting them in my head so that there was a girl involved. It makes me so happy that girls now don’t need to do that, because this movie exists. They can see that women can kick butt, improvise under extreme circumstances and be freaking hilarious ghost busting scientists!

The secretary

I don’t like the Thor movies, so I’ve never thought much of Chris Hemsworth. As Kevin, the guy is hilarious. Like tears-running-down-my-face funny. What they are doing with his character is obvious as hell, but worth mentioning. In having a male clueless receptionist, Feig and co. are turning years of gender stereotypes upside down. Placing a man in the Stupid But Funny role usually played by a woman emphasises the work that McCarthy, Wiig, Mckinnon and Jones are doing.

The cameos

I had read nothing about the film going in, because the amount of hate it received online made me depressed, so I had no clue these were going to happen until Bill Murray rocked up. I thought having the guys, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver make brief appearances was the best way to reference the fact of the remake.

The squad

The movie starts with Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) getting back in touch with her high school bestie Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) because Abby has put a book she and Erin wrote together on Amazon. The book is about ghosts and how to find them, and the sort of thing Erin really doesn’t want the higher ups at the university she now lectures at to see. When Erin arrives at Abby’s lab she is pulled back into the world of the paranormal and finds the part of her that believed never really went away. Abby is clearly one of those friends with zero tolerance for bullshit, and watching her drag Erin out from under her rock and into the life she is supposed to be living is fun.

Dr Jillian Holztmann (Kate Mckinnon) is the wonderfully weird Spengler equivalent. She builds all the gadgets (and the occasional nutcracker). Throughout you get the distinct sense she would sleep with any Ghostbuster who was up for it. She’s one of those characters living on another plane of strange I only wish I could access. Last week I had no idea who Kate Mckinnon was, and now she’s my favourite Ghostbuster.

Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) joins the group after being chased by a ghost at work. She is a New York history buff, and her know-how completes the team. What happens to Patty is pretty much what I dream of happening to me every day. She sees an extraordinary situation, decides she wants a piece of it and dives right in.

Sidenote: I really liked that there wasn’t a romance in the movie. Lately I’ve started to feel that Love Interest is the only role available to women, so seeing a movie without that was refreshing. In the end what was most important to the Ghostbusters was ghost busting.

The fight scene

There is an epic fight scene at the end of this movie. The ladies kick some serious ghost butt. They are fierce, resourceful and effective, mowing down ghosts using a combination of improvisation and gadgets created by Holtzmann. Who, incidentally, has my favourite moment in the entire battle. There is this incredible slow motion clip where she takes down a bunch of ghosts, cow boy style. Again, watching women be the aggressors rather than the victims is SO important.

Special recognition: Kate McKinnon

The whole internet is going on about it because it’s true: Kate McKinnon makes this movie. Her performance is weirdly mesmerising. Something about the combination of her frenetic facial expressions and general unpredictability make a character so bizarre you can’t help but fall in love with her.