When I first heard To the Bone would premier at Sundance Film Festival, I hoped for a theatrical release. Instead Netflix purchased the rights to it, and it became available to a wide audience. The film’s initial release at Sundancetook place in January of 2017. It began streaming on Netflix one year ago today. I watched the To the Bone twice the week of it’s Netflix release. And while I did enjoy film, I have a lot of problems with it. Many of which I’m hoping to address in multiple blog posts during the next few weeks.
To my knowledge, “To the Bone”, while an independent film, is the first feature film about eating disorders in the United States (proceeded by “Feed”, released July 18th by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). Of course we’ve had documentaries (Dying to be Thin, Thin, Perfect Illusions) and numerous made for TV movies (Sharing the Secret, Starving in Suburbia, A Secret Between Friends, Hunger Point). We’ve had a stop-motion biopic about the life and death of Karen Carpenter, reenacted by Barbie Dolls and a short-lived sitcom I discussed in a previous blog posts. (Here and here.)
Thinking about my previous viewings of “To the Bone”, I most clearly remembered the areas in which the film shocked or offended me, as well as when it fell short of my expectations. Rewatching it a year later, I am reminded of it’s softer moments. Since my first two viewings, I’ve seen Marti Noxon’s work on the new tv show, “Dietland”. I have watched and read multiple interviews with her and Lily Collins. During this most recent viewing of the film, I have a better grasp on how much of Ellen/Eli’s journey mirrors Marti’s. This makes the film far more personal. And it makes it difficult for me to be as critical as I once was.
Over the course of the last year, I have judged “To the Bone” harshly. And this is also personal. Yes, I am a white cis-gendered woman. I am in my 20s. I developed my eating disorder in my teens, and I was raised in a middle class family. But I am fat. I am a recovering Bulimic. I have had health care practitioners dismiss or minimize my Bulimia because I am fat. I am queer. I am autistic. I have multiple chronic health conditions unrelated to my eating disorder and mental illnesses that make my life difficult. While I saw myself in parts of Marti and Eli’s story, I wish the first U.S. feature film about eating disorders could have been something new. It is sadly, very similar to the dozens of times in the made for TV movies churned out since the 1980s.