Movies, Opinions

To The Bone is a harsh and unglamorous look at eating disorders


(Mild spoilers ahead)

It’s hard to review this movie without talking about, or acknowledging at the least, the controversy surrounding it. It’s also hard to watch it without being affected by this noise. Unfortunately, I think most people’s opinion of this movie will be made up before they’ve even seen the opening scene. For those of you who saw the trailer and argued it glamorized eating disorders or was triggering for those who are currently suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder, you will find moments in the film that will justify your opinion. Shots of a sickly thin body, moments when our lead blurts out the calorie count of every food on her plate, moments that can be taken out of context and used as “thinspo” on Tumblr. But if you look at the film as a cohesive piece, nobody could argue that it glamorizes eating disorders in any way.

For those of you not familiar with the new Netflix movie, it stars the beautiful Lily Collins as Ellen, a 20-year-old woman who’s been in and out of treatment facilities for anorexia nervosa. The film picks up when her dysfunctional family are at their wits end with her but decide to send her to a new “unconventional” doctor (Keanu Reeves) who is blunt, nearly seeming unsympathetic, towards her but agrees to check her into his treatment facility. There we meet a host of characters who are both helpful & unhelpful to Ellen at times, the most influential being Luke, whos dreams of becoming a dancer have been shattered by his illness.

It’s a tough watch, with some brash humour and several moments that make you feel as though you’ve been punched in the stomach. The performances are all fantastic (Luke is a pain in the ass most of the time but Alex Sharp does a good job of trying to make him charming instead). Particularly moving is Lily Collins, who herself has suffered with an eating disorder, and Lili Taylor who plays Ellen’s mother. The script for the most part is good too, although I wish there was a bit more “resolution” by the end. So at the end of the day, what’s going to leave you with a positive or negative feeling about this film is whether or not you think the very existence of this movie glamorizes anorexia – for me this is a resounding no.

One argument for this film glamorizing ed’s is that there’s a couple of shots of Collin’s severely underweight body.  I would argue that it is necessary to show this in the film, that it would not be as powerful as it is if we couldn’t see for ourselves what the illness has done to her body. For me, the few scenes in which Collins strips down are a visceral, visual image that show us that this illness is not about chasing unrealistic beauty standards, there is nothing at all beautiful about the the emaciated, bruised skeleton covered in downy fur we see in this movie.

Some more positives for To The Bone is I don’t think it falls victim to some common cliché’s about eating disorders. It addresses the fact that anorexia is not about thinness, rather it’s about control. It also gives us examples of other eating disorders such as binge-eating disorder and shows us that eating disorders can affect people of all colours, sizes and sexualities. It addresses the issue of art trivializing or glamorizing mental illness, something which ironically, To The Bone has been accused of. In the film, we learn that Ellen’s artwork has been used as #thinspo on Tumblr and tragically, resulted in a girl losing her life. The film thus acknowledges that art can have an extremely negative affect on others, but it also addresses the fact that ultimately it is not Ellen or her artwork that is to blame for the unnamed girls death. I would agree with the films assertion in that regard, and that’s why I would have to disagree with those who say this film should be banned because it may be triggering to some.

This film comes with a warning before it plays and it is your personal responsibility not to watch this film if you believe it might be triggering for you. As for those looking for #thinspo in To The Bone, if this film did not exist there is plenty to be found online, in magazines, on TV. I certainly believe in ‘trigger warnings,’ but I don’t believe in banning material because it may be triggering for some. As I understand it (I didn’t watch it), one of the issues with 13 Reasons Why is they did not provide sufficient trigger warnings for their content and they did not offer a sense of hope, something that may be discouraging to viewers. In contrary to this, To The Bone provides both a sufficient trigger warning & a hopeful (but not unrealistic or fairytale) ending. Therefore I don’t think it’s fair to lump the two together.

I’ve also heard people argue that this film could inspire someone to “get” an eating disorder. Whatever about those with a history of ed’s, I can say from the perspective of someone who has never suffered from an eating disorder, I can not imagine anyone that would see this movie and “get” an eating disorder. To me that’s absolutely absurd. It shows the physical and mental toll the illness has on both the victim and all their friends and family, and there is not a single moment where it shows or appears to show ANYTHING positive associated with the illness.

Although I’ve never personally suffered with an eating disorder, I do suffer from GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). GAD is something that affects my life every single day, and anyone with any kind of mental illness will probably have experienced times when that mental illness was overwhelming and affected not only themselves but others around them. The reason I bring this up is because I think To The Bone deals with this very well. One of the scenes that hit me the hardest was a scene in the last third of the movie where Ellen’s mother breaks down / tries an unconventional method she thinks might help her daughter. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the movie that shows you the pain, the guilt, the heartbreak this illness has caused the sufferers parent. When Ellen takes her up on the offer, I felt she was doing it for her mother rather than for herself.

That was one of my favourite moments in the film for many reasons, one of which was that I think it showed Ellen in a positive light and gave sufferers credit where credit is due. A lot of people with mental illness will experience everyone from healthcare professionals to friends and family and even strangers telling them a whole host of random shite they think will “cure” them. As the person receiving the advice it can be a real pain in the ass. For one, because you’ve probably heard that advice a million times before and tried it already, for another because it implies, in a way, that you’re just not trying hard enough to “get better.” To have to smile and accept people telling you what to do with your own head or body etc is at times really frustrating and downright insulting even when it’s well intended, sometime we just do it to keep others we love happy. I really appreciated that they showed Ellen doing something for her mom, giving those of us who suffer with mental illnesses credit where credit is due.

Even on the first day of its release on Netflix, a quick google search will return reviews ranging from 5 stars to 1 stars for To The Bone, I am sure many of my friends will have a negative impression of this movie, but my personal opinion is that this movie meant will, and we could do with more of them. Films that address binge eating disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Films that shows these disorders for what they are, mental illnesses that negatively affect the lives of those of us who live with them as well as our family and friends. There is nothing quirky or cute about OCD or GAD, just as there is nothing beautiful about anorexia. And I think it is only through realistic depictions like To The Bone that the wider population will come to understand this.

That’s why I am giving To The Bone 4.5 out of 5 stars. I have enormous respect for Lily Collins for finding the inner strength to confront her own past with eating disorders and take on this movie, and I hope that those who prejudged the film and accused it of glamorizing eating disorders will give it a chance and see that it does nothing of the sort.

 

4.5/5 stars

Streaming on Netflix now

 

 

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Movies

Film Review: Okja is unique & thought-provoking


(Beware – spoilers ahead!)

Okja is Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s new dystopian movie wherein a new breed of pigs are genetically modified to help feed the planet in a more sustainable way. The brainchild behind this revolutionary project is Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) of the Mirando Corporation. Ten years ago, a number of these pigs were sent to remote locations around the world to be raised lovingly by farmers. One of these superpigs is Okja, and she is farmgirl Mija’s (An Seo-hyn) best friend.

As is the usual case for farmanimals, Okja is fated for a tragic end and when the ten years are up, representatives of the villainous conglomerate (think Monsanto) come to collect one of the company’s best superpigs. However Mija, a stubborn and brave young heroine, goes on a quest to rescue her beloved friend from commercial exploitation and eventual slaughter. With a stubborn set to her jaw she breaks open her piggy back and runs to Seoul, determined to bring Okja home.

There’s a bizzare host of characters including Jake Gyllenhaal’s celebrity zoologist (Steve Irwin on crack) and the head of the vegan militia (Paul Dano) who’s commitment to anti-violence is questionable at times. There’s a magnificent road chase through the city of Seoul that is just as exhilarating as any blockbuster action movie and there’s beautiful cinematography that makes you wish you were at your local cinema instead of curled up on the couch with your laptop teetering on your lap (the film will not see a theatrical release in Ireland).

It’s over the top and wacko at times and then flinchingly realistic at others. Most importantly, it is truly though provoking. Moments of comedy and delight are overshadowed by deeply unsettling scenes of factory farming. When you walk away from this movie the moments of comedy will fade fast, the image of a superpig pushing her baby piglet under the electric fence of the slaughterhouse to the escaping Okja & Mija will remain.

It’s a film with a message, but whether that message will be enough to make viewers stop and think next time they’re making a beef sandwich is anyone’s guess. Some might say the film is brazen, aggressive even, in its messaging but it’s not that simple. The film seems to be daring us to look at the blood on our plates, but even our heroine Mija seems to contribute to the meat industry (her favourite food is chicken soup). The director himself has said the film is not supposed to oppose meat, but to help the audience understand the “state of capitalism today” and how animals are treated in the world of mass meat production.

In an idealistic world, Okja would have the power to turn every watcher vegetarian if not vegan, but in reality, Tilda Swinton’s character sums it up in the end when she asserts that the people won’t care what their meat is or where it comes from, “if it’s cheap, they’ll eat it.”

4/5 stars

Streaming on Netflix now

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Movies

Film Review: La La Land

 Sweeping a whopping seven Golden Globes and tipped for Oscar success, anyone who takes a trip to the cinema in the next few weeks will have high expectations for La La Land. The musical/movie which is set in the “City of Stars” Los Angeles, follows Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, and their struggle to achieve their dreams. Their first encounter is in a traffic jam on an LA freeway, when Sebastian honks his horn and Mia gives him the finger. They have a few more testy encounters before they’re dancing around singing, “I’d never fall for you..” but yes, you guessed it, things don’t stay that way.

While these two dreamers are wasting their artistic abilities (Mia waitressing and Sebastian playing embarrassingly simple Christmas melodies in some old bar to make ends meet) they find each other and become one another’s support systems as they manoeuvre their way through the highs and lows of trying to make it in a creative industry, as well as trying to maintain their romance. There’s plenty of moments that could be branded as cliché and flamboyant, but they’re all a joy to watch in La La Land. The bright, bold colours throughout are invigorating and the moment when Mia and Sebastian quite literally dance among the stars is so beautiful it’s hard to cast it aside as cheesy. The epilogue is particularly well-done (but I won’t spoil that for you).

It’s a simple, clean story – there’s no passionate sex scenes or intense violent encounters – and it doesn’t need them. From the simplicity of the mounting tension as Mia and Sebastian’s hands inch closer and closer to one another in the cinema to a dinner scene in which the conversation turns sour and there’s a moment when there’s a painful silence in which they can either leave it or say something achingly mean… it’s all so real; there’s no need for any blockbuster movie distractions.

Then, there’s the music. Considering Gosling only learned to play the piano over the course of a few months, his piano skills are ridiculously impressive. He doesn’t fail to deliver multiple mesmerizing musical performances throughout the course of the movie. If his piano pieces don’t compel you to listen to the soundtrack the moment you step out of the cinema door (and for days and days after that…) the songs will. They begin buoyant and joyful, “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”, before Gosling and Stone delve into more serious and beautiful pieces, “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”.

However, it’s not perfect. One of La La Land’s issues is that many of the musical-esque songs are crammed in at the start and by the time we get to the last third of the film, it seems as though the crew forgot they were making a musical (bar Mia’s magnificent audition). There’s also the fact that Stone and Gosling don’t have Broadway vocals and they’re certainly no Fred and Ginger. Leaving the cinema, I couldn’t help thinking the film was charming and touching, if a bit overrated. Hollywood might love it so much because it romanticizes that struggle of making it in a city of dreamers (something it’s critics might have experienced themselves) as well as the nostalgic nod to the Golden Age/MGM musicals it offers.

It ways it is attempting to emulate a big-scale Hollywood musical, one where you leave feeling uplifted and joyous. But it’s the twists and turns that deviate from that genre, that make it truly special. In La La Land, director Damien Chazelle challenges you to consider compromise, even in the dreamy world he has crafted here. There’s a moment in the film where Sebastian is attempting to explain his love of jazz to Mia; “it’s conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting” and this seems to be the version of ‘the dream’ Chazelle is presenting to his audience here. It’s a film about being an artist, falling in love, and following your dream, but at its core it’s about the cost of all three.

Rating: 4/5

(Published on Campus.ie)
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