Elle Fanning Tackles Eating Disorders In New Short Film

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If you haven’t seen this new short film by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street, Brokeback Mountain), then it is a must! It stars actress Elle Fanning and tackles the issue of eating disorders amongst young girls in particular. It is a shocking (and artistic) interpretation of how people suffering with an ED have a distorted self view, reconfirming the fact that this is a mental disease as much as it is physical.

In 2012, Rodridgo was approached by a film company called Candescent Films who create socially conscious films to educate and inspire. They, along with several other partners asked him to write and direct a short movie with a social message that was personal to him.

Immediately he thought about his 19 year old daughter, Ximena, who suffered with an eating disorder and decided to tackle that issue and enlist her help. They cast 15-year old Elle Fanning to play the lead role of Mia, who is seen walking through a house passing various gothic-like models who all look incredibly starved and bone-thin. There is no dialogue in the short film, but it is a series of compelling and haunting images showing how the mind of a teenage girl is plagued by low self-esteem and much much more.

Throughout the 8 minutes, we see that what Mia sees was actually only a figment of her imagination, and that she is really just at a house party with other teenagers. But she goes into the bathroom to make herself throw up after staring at herself in the mirror and being horrified at her own image.

“This was an important healing device for us, and hopefully a way to help other kids say, ‘I feel like that. I understand that,’” Prieto said to the New York Times about ‘Likeness’. But he insists that the film isn’t just about bulimia. “It’s about being in a society where we feel judged, and are judging ourselves.”

Prieto says he deliberately avoided a neat conclusion to reflect his family’s enduring psychological scars. At one point, Fanning’s character stares into a mirror and sees a grotesque monster peering back. Although only 15, she brings stunning emotional depth to the scene. Watching her through the camera, Prieto felt as though he were watching Ximena. “I broke down crying,” he says. “Even though it was painful, it was also therapeutic. That was really the moment it was all about.”

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For Prieto, it was a way for his family to talk about eating disorders. “Since we had gone through the anorexia, this was still very present in my heart, and it’s an important issue that I don’t feel is really discussed enough in the arts, and in general,” Prieto said to the Today Show.

“We are hoping it helps other people or families to open up and talk about what they’ve been feeling or experienced.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women in the United States suffer with an eating disorder, and 10 million men. “Anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness, and [there is a] significant burden on families, emotionally and financially.” says Lynn Grefe, president of NEDA.

The message of this film has been criticized by some as too shocking and could possibly promote anorexia. But ultimately it bears a witness to the horrific illness that some have to live with. It is an insider’s perspective to how someone with an eating disorder thinks and hopefully will build awareness so family, friends and the media are more educated and equipped to help.

“Ximena says we can’t hide from these things or hide these images from young boys and girls, because they’re going to find them, anyway. It’s not like, OK if they don’t see this short they’ll be fine. I think that this short is, in the end, helpful to open the discussion for people to talk about it.” Said Prieto, and the fact that it has already gone viral since being posted on Youtube on December 11 shows this is conversation worth having.

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