When I first heard this movie was being produced, I set my expectations for its realistic depiction of eating disorders very low. However, I was still anticipating its release. I am so thankful to say that I was surprised after finishing the movie and it seriously surpassed my low expectations. No it wasn’t perfect, but there will never be a movie that accurately depicts the struggle of everyone who has dealt with an eating disorder. It is silly to expect that.
What this film did was push eating disorders into mainstream media. It starting a real conversation. The actors, as well as, the director are well-known and it can be streamed on the most popular movie streaming service in the world. It is not some obscure lifetime movie or PBS documentary that would only be found if you were specifically searching for a film about eating disorders. Anyone could be scrolling through their Netflix cue and stumble across this movie and decide to watch it. The fact that this movie has this going for it, it was also one of the most accurate depictions of eating disorders in the media that I have ever seen.
I have to disagree with much of the controversy surrounding this film and only had a few concerns after viewing. Its accuracy is largely based on the fact that the director, Marti Noxon, as well as the lead actress, Lilly Collins both struggled with eating disorders. The film is based on the director’s own journey and treatment. Also, Project Heal, a well-known, organization that supports those struggling with eating disorders decided to back this film and help with its promotion.
A big concern surrounding the film was that Collins, who previously suffered from anorexia as a teenager, lost weight for the role. This is a common part of acting as an occupation that actors modify their bodies for roles in order to realistically portray a character. While I would never attempt this, even in a successful recovery, Collins felt that she could accomplish this without endangering her mental health and that is her personal choice. She was also assisted by a nutritionist and the weight loss was gradual. That’s the healthiest way they could have done it. Most of the appeared emaciation was done through CGI and was not Collins’ actual physique. When discussing this with my mom, she brought up the point of “Would you rather someone portray this character, who has never experienced an eating disorder, end up developing one due to the weight loss and emotional intensity of portraying the character?” I have to agree with her point and I would rather someone who has been through it accurately portray the character.
One specific concern I had was that the way eating disorder treatment was portrayed was very unique and atypical. My personal treatment experience had some similarities, but was also very different. However, I respect this portrayal because this is what Noxon, the movie’s director, personally experienced. It was her story to tell. It is often referenced that this way of treatment is radical. I do want everyone to recognize this. In the beginning of the movie, we see Eli in a more typical treatment center that she ends up being kicked out of due to her refusal to comply with treatment, which actually does happen. They also reference other forms of typical treatment such as Maudsley and a popular treatment center with locations around the United States, Renfrew. I suggest you do research on the more typical forms of treatment if you wish to understand what daily treatment is like. However, I did say there were similarities and there definitely were. Morning weigh-ins, locked bathrooms, dramatic family therapy sessions, refusals to eat, NG tubes and emotional connection and support between patients. I very much recognized the parallels of my own time in inpatient treatment.
Although the main character was a typical of societies idea of eating disorders looks like, young, thin, female and white, other diverse characters were shown in the movie. Including a male supporting actor who suffered from anorexia for who I was so happy they included. I was nervous that they were going to do a typical Hollywood storyline and make him somehow “save her.” Thankfully they did not go that route and showed the idea that he could save her was unrealistic because he was sick himself and the only person who can really save you is YOU. Her doctor outright tells her this. In the end, it is what she decides to do. I also like the way they ended it with her accepting death, but then realizing she had the courage to fight this so she decides to go back to treatment and put her whole self in. I was grateful they showed the hope of recovery and they didn’t go for the perfect happy ending or the shock factor of her dying. In my eyes, it was great.
This movie had many literal and figurative parallels to my story including the divorced parents. I think this was the most accurate portrayal of eating disorders we have in the media. I look forward to the dialogue it will open up and has already opened up, as well as, setting up for future accurate portrayals in the media. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yet, get no recognition. It’s about time they do. So thank you Marti Noxon, Netflix, Project Heal, Lilly Collins and everyone who participated in the production of this movie! I definitely recommend viewing it. Just view with caution if you are still suffering or in a vulnerable place in your recovery.