To the Bone': Movie Critique and Analysis

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‘To the Bone’ focuses on a twenty-year-old college dropout named Ellen (or Eli) who is struggling with anorexia nervosa (AN). Her stepmom is out of treatment options until Ellen meets an unconventional doctor who accepts her into his program, which consists of staying in a group home for six weeks and recovering from eating disorders. The drama is centered around the physical and mental effects of this eating disorder. 'To the Bone' was written and directed by Marti Noxon and released in 2017; the duration of the movie is approximately one hour and forty-seven minutes. Anorexia nervosa will be discussed in reference to ‘To the Bone’.


‘To the Bone’ begins with Ellen leaving an inpatient rehab center after failing to make improvement in her recovery; she moves back in with her stepmom, sister and absent father. With the help of her stepmom, Susan, Ellen meets with a specialist, Doctor Beckham, who recommends that she stays at a treatment home with six others, who are attempting to recover from eating disorders, as well. Ellen is reluctant to do so at first, but after talking with her younger sister, Kelly, she follows through. At a family counseling session led by Beckham, Ellen’s recovery declines after her stepmom and mom focus their attention on their grievances against each other, as well as their own personal problems, and are not sympathetic towards Ellen. She begins to make some progress at one point, but it comes to a halt, once again, after Luke begins expressing his feelings for her and Megan miscarries her baby due to her resumed purging after the twelve-week mark of her pregnancy. As a result, Eli leaves to go live with her mom in Phoenix. On her first night there, her mother expresses her guilt over not bonding with her daughter as much as she should have, and suggests that she bottle feeds Eli to attempt to solve both problems. Eli reluctantly agrees and afterwards, goes on a walk. She passes out and has a nightmare that she sees Luke again and she also sees another version of herself dying. Waking up, Eli decides to head back home, where she sees Susan and Kelly again before returning to Beckham’s program.


Noxon’s purpose of writing and directing this film is to show the damaging effects of AN and the recovery process through an inpatient group home. She achieves this purpose by casting “individuals who have struggled with eating disorders” in the past themselves (‘To the Bone’, 2017). She also bases the film off of her own experience with AN. Acting is powerful in this movie, given that Lily Collins (Ellen/Eli) also suffered and recovered from AN herself and is able to empathize with the character she is portraying. Personally, I believe that the writing was done really well in some areas, but there are other scenes where Noxon could have improved the storyline. For example, she could have left out the subplot with the romance between Eli and Luke and instead, focused more of the screenplay on Ellen recovering from AN. The music was effectively incorporated into the movie, as well.

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Some other strengths within the movie consist of how Noxon showed Eli’s eating disorder. For example, she smokes to curb hunger and at mealtimes, she mainly only pushes her food around on the plate in front of her. Noxon was successful in capturing a potential environmental factor of AN because a broken home could be part of the reason for a condition like hers. The movie also gives some insight on Eli’s family life, including her father not having much of a presence in her life, her mother moving away to be married to someone else and both her mom and stepmom being self-centered at her family therapy session. Some side effects of AN are also shown and discussed, such as Eli’s period stopping because of the amount of weight and body fat she lost, she constantly wraps her middle finger and thumb around her upper arms and she faints at one point. Noxon also captures the main character’s bony figure to emphasize the problem of AN.

The weaknesses mainly involve the lack of treatment for the disorder. Doctor Beckham does not discuss the subject of food or ask Eli to take small steps by eating a little more each day. The portrayal of the treatment does not seem realistic because according to Kristen Armbrust, in her writing, she states that patients are “typically monitored by a physician, therapist, psychiatrist and dietitian” (Armbrust). Specialists do not play much of a role in the recovery process because “there is often an individualized meal plan and supervision to prevent behaviors from occurring”, but neither of those things are present throughout the movie (Armbrust). One other weakness is that the audience gets some insight on Eli’s home life, but she never once discusses the reason why she developed AN, nor does she express a desire to be thin. Something else I have noticed is that Eli’s specialists treat her AN as they would an addiction. For example, a counselor at Eli’s facility notes that “Starving [herself] can make [her] feel euphoric, like a drug addict or an alcoholic” (‘To the Bone’, 2017). Treating the disorder as an addiction could be a strength, considering that AN is similar to an addiction. However, this method might not be the best approach because personally, I believe that Doctor Beckham and one of the counselors could have asked her to eat a little more each day, as previously mentioned. Beckham tells Ellen’s stepmom that an issue with the treatment is that he and the other specialists will not let the young teens hit rock bottom because it is “too hard to watch”, but notes afterwards that “for Eli, the bottom’s critical” (‘To the Bone’, 2017). This line implies that AN is not considered an issue until an individual as thin as they can be without dying, which is not true. The movie shows Eli going back to the group home after a nightmare where she sees herself dead, but Noxon fails to include the results of her time at the facility.

Personally, I found the movie to be interesting because of how well the negative effects of the disorder were portrayed throughout the movie. However, it had dull moments when it came to Eli’s progress with her treatment. Overall, I have mixed feelings about this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone struggling with AN because it could possibly alter their views on the process of overcoming their eating disorder.


‘To the Bone’ accurately depicts the physical and psychological effects of AN. As said previously, the treatment of the disorder is not carried out as well as it could have been. Overall, the drama receives a C grade.


  1. Armbrust, Kristen. “‘To the Bone’ and Eating Disorder Treatment: Did Netflix Get It Right?”, 22 Aug. 2017,
  2. Noxon, Marti, director. ‘To the Bone’. To the Bone, Netflix, 2017.
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To the Bone’: Movie Critique and Analysis. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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