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To the Bone

To the Bone: An Internal Battle Against Food

by Junessa Sladen-Dew

In the film To The Bone (2017), directed by Marti Noxon, the internal battle with self-image and the social pressure to be thin are revealed through cinematographic elements and displays of food. This 2017 American drama, featuring stars such as Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves, offers an insightful look into a widespread issue that plagues many adolescents around the globe. Ellen is a 20-year-old college dropout who returns home during her battle against anorexia nervosa and looks to a new form of treatment. She is placed in an unconventional group home where the fellow residents are also battling an array of eating disorders. Marti Noxon takes the audience on a harrowing journey through the lives of Ellen and her fellow residents, showcasing the ups and downs of the battle against an eating disorder. Throughout this movie, food is the antagonist and holds a negative position, in comparison with the feeling of comfort usually associated with food, invoking comfortability in the characters and the audience.

The relationship between Ellen and her food is extremely intricate and leaves the audience questioning societies role in the expectations of what food means. The group home takes an idiosyncratic view on the healing process and allows each resident to choose all the food they eat. Traditionally, the food chosen by someone is a comfort food or something that brings nostalgic memories; however, the residents have specific reasons for their choices. Usually these choices have little to do with positive associations and diminish the association of food and positive comfort in each resident. Through cinematographic elements such as panning shots, Noxon sets up a comparative analysis of the food that the residents are choosing and their respective emotions.

Ellen picks apart her first meal at the group home while analyzing her food choices.

This film holds an important societal message about body norms and the social expectations that are placed on all adolescents but specifically women concerning caloric intake and enjoyment of food. The specific regimen that the residents are forced to follow feeds into the idea that food can be viewed as solely a path of survival without any association. Creating a movie where food is the antagonist, To The Bone creates a stark and cold setting with a strong sense of foreboding unhappiness. Although food is seen as the enemy for many of the residents, the most pivotal scene occurs at the dining room table as seen in Figure 1. The table, traditionally a place of cohesive family behavior, is instead used as an arena of judgement and unhappiness. Through the medium shots that land on each resident and rests on Ellen, a strong sense of comparison is felt by the viewer. The scene ends in judgmental remarks being passed across the table at the choices of food by Ellen and ends in an establishing long shot of all the residents still seated and glaring in disgust at each other. Through this scene, we see that eating and food are not only an internal enemy for the residents but has the potential to tear apart their fragile friendships simultaneously. The film comes to an end when Ellen begins her recovery from her battle against anorexia nervosa and begins to build relationships with the people and food in her life. Through simple day-to-day interactions with family and friends, usually centered around gatherings that include food, Ellen begins to untwist her distorted image of herself and finds comfort with eating and showing an appreciation for her body.


To The Bone. Directed by Marti Noxon. 2017. Netflix


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