Netflix’s new film features a story based on a real-life experience of a survivor of an eating disorder. The film was directed and and written by Marti Noxon who survived this condition and wanted to tell a story about it by hiding nothing.
I knew about anorexia and bulimia before, but I can’t remember I saw a film that tackles the issue so effectively as this one. However, while the film was educational for me, some criticised it for being too explicit (see here).
For example, the film vividly shows how girls with anorexia avoid digesting food and what tricks they use, which is educational for wider audiences but it also gives tips to those with an eating disorder, something that some charities advise against. In addition, some criticised the film for glamorising anorexia because the main character Ellen (Lilly Collins) looks too glamorous in oversized clothes and big glasses and she has lost too much weight for the role. The latter is also problematic because she used to suffer from anorexia too and this could have been a slip into an old habit. However, views of survivors of the eating disorder are divided between those who also think that tricks should not be promoted and those who think it is good to tackle the issue in an open way because survivor should be able to cope with it anyway (see survivor stories).
In summary, in the film we meet Ellen who has an eating disorder but also ‘I don’t care’ rebellious attitude. She is so skinny and pale that is difficult to watch the film. If this was a Hollywood blockbuster Collins would have been treated more favourably for winning an Oscar because of loosing so much weight to portray the character. Ellen suffers as she can’t force herself to eat but she does exercise excessively because she does not really want help. Thus, even the smallest amount of food must go through exercise that is hurting her spine for her body has nearly no strength to cope with loosing any more weight.
Throughout the film we see hers and other girl’s struggle, as they live in a private clinic, which is nothing more than a house where girls and one (male) English ballet dancer live together receiving therapy, trying to eat and hanging out. One of the girls has a bucket for throwing up food, which she eats to earn points so that she can go for a walk or to the cinema alone, but she actually runs to loose weight. The other one is on tube as her body can no longer cope with weight loss, and she obsessively thinks how much calories is she given each day. They all have what Ellen calls “Calories Asperger, however, critics point out that the film celebrates thinspiration or thinspo, which is a pro-ana (pro-anorexia) movement where anorexic individuals post photos and blogs to various sites to motivate each other to loose weight further.
The film is a story of struggle, desire to live but unwillingness to eat to survive, and there is also a love story with a charming Englishman trying to help Ellen to continue fighting while he also continues hid plight to healthier life. At few moments in the film, viewer gets really annoyed with Ellen and her refusal to eat while, at the same time, feeling sorry for herself because her mother can’t cope anymore and has kicked her out while her father accepts her to the house but can’t really face her. It is only where her mother tells her that she accepted that Ellen wants to die that Ellen goes outside in the night and sees herself for what she is, a human skeleton. But, the battle only begins there.
This is an educational film that helps to understand why girls and boys with eating disorder can’t help themselves, but also how their loved ones simply reach a point when they just can’t cope anymore. People with eating disorder are sick and need help, and families also need therapy to cope with what they’ve been through. But, the most powerful message that comes through the film is when we listen group therapies, and that is that society makes some of us starve to death because we want to be loved. And in order to find love we think we need to be skinny. This issue needs addressing even more than the eating disorder itself. In that, I agree with critics who state that pro-ana content should not be promoted, however, the message in this film is not – in my view – positive towards anorexia. It is a story of struggle and telling girls off. Indeed, as Ellen’s family tells her, she is not beautiful for being so skinny. This message should come across more often and perhaps we would have less troubled teens and young people dealing with this opaque condition.
Thank you for reading.