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California School of the Arts

Movie commentary: ‘To the Bone’: A candid discussion on eating disorders

I am always hungry. So is Ellen, a 20-year-old artist fighting an uphill battle against anorexia. The only difference is that I love food and eat it without second thought, while Ellen sees numbers rather than food and the thought of chewing and swallowing something is appalling.

Directed by Marti Noxon, “To The Bone” tells the story of Ellen’s experience in her fifth group recovery home where she meets a small, diverse group of people: Luke, a recovering ballet dancer, a woman being treated for binge eating, a pony-lover that needed to be tube-fed, and two women who suffer from bulimia, one of which is pregnant.

As Ellen’s time in the center goes on, we are exposed to the ups and downs of recovery. We watch as Luke tries to tempt Ellen into having some of her favorite candy bar, only to see her painstakingly push away something her body wanted but mind rejected.

We watched the friendship between Luke and Ellen grow in the middle of all the despair, the two mischievously dodging their way out of providing IDs for beers on an outing, enjoying a “meal” over childlike happiness for having pulled off their prank. We watch the members excitedly throw a baby shower, and watch the pain felt throughout the home when one night, the baby is lost. We watch Luke excited to fully recover to go back to dance, only to see his dreams get crushed. We watch Ellen struggle again and again, unable to break out of her habit of counting calories, doing endless sit-ups in the dark, and measure her arm day after day.

As an audience, we begin to see the addiction that fuels such incomprehensible behaviors. We go on the journey with all of them, though the frantic late-night exercises to the small victories. We come to understand it is not a choice, nor something beautiful, or “goals,” even in a society with overwhelming attention on physical appearances.

The movie’s authenticity comes from, in part, the fact that both Noxon and Lily Collins (who played the part of Ellen) have had first-hand experiences in dealing with eating disorders in their own lives.

In her memoir, “Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me,” Collins opens an honest discussion on her struggles with body-image, addiction to diet pills and laxatives, and self-confidence.

Despite having to lose weight during the filming, she stated that “This was something that I needed to talk about and bring to the attention of more people and go through for myself.

“When I read [the script], it struck me as such an important subject matter to bring to the attention of people. It is still considered quite taboo to talk about, and yet it’s becoming more and more prevalent within today’s society, and not just with women. If not now, when?”

Despite the concerns that the movie, as well as the weight loss Collins took on, would trigger those in recovery, founder of Project HEAL, Kristina Saffran, points out that “In recovery, part of the process is learning to live in a world full of potential triggers and being OK.”

Cofounder Liana Rosenman added, “the idea that both Lily and Marti struggled with eating disorders” helped them know that “they weren’t going to create something that was a how-to guide.”

Though the movie might have some scenes that portray the physical effects of eating disorders, the movie could also inspire hope for recovery for those who still battle eating disorders every day. Even though the concerns are well-founded, we should give the movie a chance to raise awareness and potentially rethink some of the values we possess in our society. 

The last scenes show Ellen having an out-of body experience, seeing her emaciated body curled up on the ground, while asking herself, “Is that me?” as tears well up in her own eyes. As she slowly begins to realize a body full of edges was not something that she truly wanted, she resolves to live, and returns back to the treatment home. Although we never see her fully recovering, we can only cheer her– and others struggling with eating disorders– on and hope that this time, she will recover for good.

The honest depictions of raw emotions and the unflinching focus on their struggles allows conversations to be started and stories to be told, all while telling an intricate story of deciding to survive.