There has been a lot of controversy throughout the year over the depiction of mental health in dramas on Netflix. Most notably, ’13 Reasons Why’, a show based on a novel of the same name which tells the story of a teenage girl – Hannah Baker – who leaves behind a series of tapes to people after her suicide. Whilst many praised the show for generating necessary conversation on mental health, it was also widely criticised for glorifying suicide.
I decided to give ‘13 Reasons Why’ a miss based on reviews I got from friends but after stumbling upon the trailer of ‘To The Bone’ and watching it after its release, I wanted to share some of my thoughts as the show has also faced its fair share of criticism.
To the Bone tells the story of 20-year-old Ellen who has struggled with anorexia throughout her teenage years and has attempted various recovery programmes without success. Determined to find a solution, her dysfunctional family send her to a treatment centre, which is led by a non-traditional doctor played by Keanu Reeves. The show follows her time at the centre and the hard choices she must make for recovery.
I haven’t been exposed to a lot of conversations around eating disorders but I found the film to be educative and informative in its depiction of the physical and mental challenges for people with eating disorders. The need to main control is a recurring theme throughout the film, in particular, the struggle for the patients to maintain control over their calorie intakes.
Contrary to the criticisms, I also didn’t feel that the film glamorised eating disorders. Throughout the film, the life-threatening implication for an eating disorder is portrayed alongside the effects and strain it can cause on family members. It’s particularly harrowing in the case of Megan the character that I connected the most with and the oldest patient at the treatment centre who has a miscarriage in the middle of the film.
What Didn’t Work
From an artistic point of view, there were quite a few scenes that were supposed to be powerful and poignant that missed the mark for me. The scene where the Doctor suggests Ellen changes her name to Eli alongside the rain scene featured in the trailer fell flat. Whilst I understood the symbolism of the scenes emotionally it didn’t translate across the screen.
The romantic subplot of the film also felt unnecessary and it would be great to have a film on mental health that is not heavily driven by romance. I found it to be a detraction from what could have been a greater exploration of the driving forces behind the protagonist’s eating disorder. In addition, the presence of an attractive male therapist also seems to be a recurring element of films that explore mental health such as Dear Zindagi the purpose of which I am yet to understand.
Lastly, eating disorders affect a far broader demographic than is portrayed in the film but I do appreciate the inclusion of a male character. Overall, To The Bone is definitely worth a watch but I’m more interested in hearing the thoughts of people who have experience with eating disorders in regards to the film.
Notable Dialogue From To The Bone
‘the way you’re going, one day you won’t wake up’.
“Be good. Not too good, not perfect.”
“People say they love you, but what they mean is they love how loving you makes them feel about themselves.”
Below is a more extensive review of the movie from Kati Morton, who has a great YouTube channel where she regularly discusses mental health.
Have you watched To The Bone or 13 Reasons Why? If yes, how did you find it? And what is the best movie you’ve watched on mental health?