To the Bone confirms there are (almost) no good movies about anorexia

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The Netflix drama, which stars Lily Collins, bends on some outdated tropes. But only a handful of novels and films have elicited current realities of the illness, or explained why so many ladies transform their unhappiness on themselves

No talk about food. Its boring and its unhelpful, announces Keanu Reeves playing( hold on to your hat) a doctor specialising in anorexia nervosa in To the Bone, the much-discussed upcoming movie about anorexia, starring Lily Collins and distributed by Netflix. And this is excellent admonition, but it can be hard to see beyond the surface issues when you are dealing with someone who is literally depriving themselves to death: the shoulder blades protruding out like birds wings, the food concealed under place mats, the appendages so squandered you are able to circle them with your fingers. It is even harder if a part of you is turned on by skinny, self-destructive females, as the movies invariably are, and this one definitely is.

Its not easy to make a good movie about anorexia, which is why almost almost none exist. How to illustrate a mental illness that unlike, suppose, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder has such a well-known and hard-to-fake physical manifestation? To the Bones writer-director, Marti Noxon who based the movie on her own experiences with the illness got around this by get Collins, who has spoken about her own struggles with eating disorders , to lose an astonishing amount of load so that she searches credibly anorexic on screen. Dedicate how thin female actors now have to be merely to seem slim, your nerve smashes at the thought of how much weight she must have lost to look so painfully ill.

To the Bone has been wildly praised because it debuted at Sundance in January, and I can only presume this is because commentators get weirdly overexcited when actors undergo physical changes. The fact is To the Bone is not a good movie about anorexia. In reality, it is a bad one. We could talk all day about the ethics of hiring a young lady who is known to be vulnerable to eating disorders, and then telling her to lose weight to look anorexic, but lets give Collins the benefit of the doubt and announce she is an adult woman who is free to establish her own career selections. Instead, lets talk about To the Bones real problem, which is that it is shoal, sexist and sick.

The only justification for making a movie like this is that it is going to provide some revelation into a much-discussed if little understood problem, information requirements Netflixs earlier and similarly exploitative foray into self-destructive young lady, 13 Reasons Why , notably failed to meet. But from the very first scene it is obvious that To the Bone leans on some wearily outdated tropes. We firstly appreciate Ellen( Collins) in an in-patient unit, in which she and her fellow anorexia patients are beautifully styled in the universally recognised signifiers of crazy-but-sexy young woman: heavy kohl eyeliner and mascara, Tank Girl-esque distressed clothing and biker boots. We have gone from 1999 s Girl, Interrupted to 2017 s Meal, Interrupted.

Click here to watch the trailer for To the Bone.

From there on, the anorexia stereotypes are ticked off with the regularity of infirmary mealtimes. The movie disregards its own advice almost immediately about not focusing on the food and does so with voyeuristic intensity, without ever asking why so many girls feel so unhappy, and why they then become this unhappiness on themselves. All the anorexia patients, with one male exception, are young, attractive, middle-class lily-white ladies, when the illness alters a much broader demographic. Reeves, as Ellens psychiatrist, Dr Beckham, is a self-described unconventional doctor, who proves his unconventionality by swearing occasionally and insisting his methods are totally different from anyone elses( theyre not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do ). He also clearly enjoys his influence over his mainly female patients and a braver, less conventional cinema would have explored this more. Instead, To the Bone merely accepts the doctors version of himself as the brilliant, patriarchal medical professional who are in a position stick women.

I am going to show my cards here and say that I am certainly biased on this issue, because I had a doctor similar in some matters relating to Beckham during my first three hospitalisations: Dr Peter Rowan, then based at the Priory in Roehampton. I was simply 14 when I first satisfied him but even then it seemed to me that he revelled too much in his authority over a ward of vulnerable women, who in turn viewed him as god-like. In 2011, 18 years after we parted behaviors, he was struck off when it rose he had what was described as a blurred and secretive relation with a female patient, who left him more than 1m in her will.

Now, clearly, there are plenty of excellent male psychiatrists who work with eating disorders, and my own experience was an outlier. But given that anorexia is often a shape of insurrection against gender norms, with female and male sufferers scorning, respectively, sexualised femininity and macho masculinity by starving themselves, it is ironic that a movie should re-enact such gender cliches. The doctor is a man, the nurse were women, the women in Ellens life( her mother, stepmother and her mothers girlfriend) are all self-obsessed and bitchy, her father is absent but hard-working. The one male anorexia patient is wise and selfless in a way none of the female patients are, and spoiler notify he, along with the male doctor, helps to save Ellen. Many brilliant ladies are now the leading lights in eating-disorder care , not least the status of women who treated me through my last three hospital admissions, Professor Janet Treasure , now the director of the Eating Disorder Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, London. So the idea that all that these hysterical female anorexia patients need is a couple of calm mortals to save them from themselves is, to throw it mildly, grating. The cinema even tacks on a candidly ludicrous romantic subplot, and anyone who envisages patients with eating disorder are making out with each other on hospital wards has clearly never riled to Google what starvation does to a persons libido.

There is currently a petition online demanding that Netflix draws the reveal for two reasons. The first, that is likely to initiation sufferers, is a point I experience sympathy for but cannot agree with. Legislating against anything that might trigger the mentally ill or vulnerable is an impossible play of Whack-a-Mole. But the petitions other grievance, that it glamorises anorexia, will be less easy for the film-makers to dismiss. Contrary to what the character of Ellen might recommend, anorexia is not all thigh cracks and eyeliner. By the time I was admitted to hospital for the first time when I was 14, most of my fuzz had fallen out, I could barely stroll because I was so cold and my knuckles hemorrhaged constantly due to highly dry and broken scalp. Instagram-ready, I was not. There is a line between making a complex theme filmable and sexing-up a serious illness, and To the Bone crosses it from the first incident. And when all a film about anorexia tells you is that people with anorexia have issues with meat, and that this shapes them thin and unhappy, you have to wonder what the point of the movie is.

Anorexias physical shows distract even those of us who have suffered from it from comprehending the internal matter. Indeed, that is the point of the starving: we dont have to think about the unhappiness that resulted us to this point. In one interview, Noxon said that being around Collins and the other actors who were losing load was difficult for her. I started to need to turn to the other female producers quite often and articulate: Im going to need you to tell me that I dont need to lose weight, she mentioned. When there is a part of you that still gets turned on by not eating, you will not be able to discuss anorexia properly, because you are still preoccupied by the surface symptoms.

Lily Collins in Netflix drama To the Bone. Photo: Gilles Mingasson/ Netflix/ Netflix

Even beyond the directors own issues, it feels nearly inevitable that anorexia should be glamorised in a movie made today. We have come a long way from 1983, when Karen Carpenter succumbed of anorexia and people were shocked that someone could actually starve themselves to fatality, but despite the increased awareness, exchanges about the illness still too often descend into voyeuristic fascination. Since the 90 s, when skinny became the female beauty criterion( a sharp-worded diminution from the more Amazonian supermodels of the 80 s ), representations of anorexia in mass culture have come wrapped in a odd concoction of prurience, spectacle and aspiration. The Daily Mail has a regular, long-running and wildly reckless tower by a woman writing about her anorexia. The glamorisation of anorexia online is notorious by now, with increases of pro ana( pro anorexia) websites, which pass on gratuities about how to avoid eating, and thinspo( thin inspiration) images on Instagram; anorexia has been reduced to an aesthetic speech and To the Bone reflects that.

In words of art, there is remarkably little that is much better. Poor Richey Edwards, the late guitarist from the Manic Street Preachers, wrote likely the most brutally evocative sung about it, 4st 7lbs( I eat too much to die/ And not enough to stay alive/ Im sitting in the middle waiting ). But he himself was so caught up in the illness he could only depicts the immediate experience , not “the worlds largest” overview. In volumes, there are a number of anorexia memoirs now both luminary and non the majority of members of which, to be honest, are little more than a mix of food diaries, pop-psychology and self-help.

By far, the best volume on the subject is Jenefer Shutes astounding novel Life-Size, which captures the disorient early descent into the illness, the loneliness of it at its more extreme and the weirdness of hospitalisation better than anything I have ever seen or read. Noxon has responded to criticism of her movie by emphasising it is based on her indidvidual experience, but Life-Size uncovers the laziness of this popular get-out clause. Everything is an individual suffer, but if your re-telling of it strikes no general chord, the mistake is in your telling. Life-Size is a deeply personal tale, about a twentysomething with anorexia called Josie. But in its utterly original, quasi-poetic prose mode that shifts between memory, the hospitalised existing and Josies hallucinations, this is a book that shuns the cliches and, in doing so, contacts a wider truth. No one thing can antidote someone with anorexia and this book definitely didnt antidote me. But it did help me get a fix on my own experience as I was finally starting to recover and, in that regard, changed my life.

There have been only two good movies about anorexia: both treat the subject almost metaphorically and the two are directed against Todd Haynes. Most patently, there is Wizard: The Karen Carpenter Story, Hayness film about the most famous anorexia sufferer of all, retold with modified Barbie dolls, which perfectly captures the artificially perfect world-wide that many with anorexia feeling they need to embody. Then there is his 1995 cinema Safe, about a woman who seals herself off away into an antiseptic world. While not explicitly about anorexia, Safe rekindles the real suffer of the illness: the self-imprisonment, the illogicality, the feel you are being eaten up from within by forces you cannot control.

When I think back on my years of being ailment, which went on long after I left hospital, I barely think about the meat and the load at all. Instead, I recollect the coldnes, the isolation, the institutionalisation, the time lost and all the things Hayness movies and Shutes book depict so well. Keanu was right: its not about the food. Thats simply the boring stuff that confuses even those who should know better.

To the Bone streams on Netflix from Friday .

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