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Thin is a documentary
following several women at Renfrew Center in Florida who are being treated as
inpatients for eating disorders. The main ones are Shelly, Brittany, Alisa,
and Polly, and they range in age from 15 to their thirties. We see some other
women at the Center who are older, but for the most part it seems that most of
the patients are in their teens or twenties. In 2004, director Lauren
Greenfield followed them in psychotherapy sessions, nutritional counseling,
group counseling, meal times, family visits, talking on the phone, measuring
weight, visits to doctors, and socializing together with other patients. For
the patients to be at the Center, they clearly have to have very serious
disorders: their weights are dangerously low and their lives are at risk. Some
of them have attempted suicide or seriously contemplated suicide. Indeed, much
of their behavior seems self-destructive. The film shows very clearly how difficult
it is to cope with the disorder, and how difficult it is to treat it. We see
the women disobeying the rules of the Center, lying to therapists and each
other, being unpleasant to other patients. Especially striking is how
difficult the patients find it to accept that are thin enough already and that
they need to gain weight. They feel that being forced to eat food is torture,
and will make them fat. So while they have agreed to be at the Center, they
are extremely ambivalent about being there, and often want to leave. We see
meetings where the staff talk about the patients and try to work out who is
lying and being manipulative, and who is really making an effort. The overall
impression given by the documentary is that for most of these women, controlling
their weight will be an issue that follows them through the rest of their
lives, and as with alcohol and substance abuse treatment, a great deal of
treatment has virtually no beneficial effect.
As the documentary progresses, we
get a sense of the immaturity of the patients, and their unwillingness to face
their serious situation. Some of the most striking scenes are where the staff
confront the patients about their immature behavior and their
untrustworthiness. At the same time, it seems clear that much of the time,
this immaturity is part of their condition, and this raises a worry that the
staff, in confronting patients, are blaming patients for their condition. We
also see how in the group meetings, the emphasis is placed on the whole community
and the responsibility of the members of it to respect each other. The power
of the documentary is its ability to sympathetically bring out these tensions
and how the staff and patients try to resolve them.
Greenfield is a photographer, and
although she is not the cinematographer for this documentary, the film is still
full of powerful visual details. In the dining room, the camera zooms in to
the plates and showing the tiny mouthfuls of food they take. Amazingly, the
participants in the documentary seem to forget the presence of the camera and
we get close ups of their facial expressions as they talk to each other. Thin
is a gripping piece of work, which repays repeated viewing. As with any
documentary, it tends to focus on the most dramatic episodes and so does not
give such a strong sense of the routine nature of life in such an institution,
and it make underestimate the importance of the drudgery of everyday life and
working through issues in therapy. It will provide an excellent introduction to
those who find it difficult to understand the seriousness of eating disorders
and the challenge of treating them, and it will give insight about treatment to
those who are all to familiar with the dangers of anorexia. Highly
© 2006 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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