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Anorexia and other, related eating disorders are one of the ironic curses of our rich and well-fed civilization. In the midst of available food, anorexics (usually young women) literally starve themselves, trying desperately to shape their bodies to meet a distorted image of "thin and beautiful." No one really knows what causes anorexia; the best theory at the moment is that some combination of genetic predisposition, personality, family behavior, and cultural pressure triggers the psychological disorder. One of the most insidious aspects of anorexia is its ambivalent position in our culture: while we recognize that behavior like binging and purging or drug abuse to lose weight are disordered, we also exalt size-0 models and implicitly associate obsession about weight with the rich, famous, and emulated. Anybody who's ever thought that anorexia is no big deal ought to watch Thin. Frankly, anybody who cares at all about the health and well-being of women in our society ought to watch Thin: it's a chilling experience to really see the destructive power of eating disorders.
The documentary Thin chronicles four women, ages 15-30, as they check into Renfrew, an eating-disorder treatment center, to get help for their disorders. These women are not just "too thin." They are in serious risk of death, having starved themselves to the point that their bodies are shutting down: erratic heartbeat, liver damage, loss of hair, and so on. Some have attempted suicide in the face of devastating body-image problems. But the grip of the disorder is so strong that, even at a skeletal 80 pounds, a woman could call herself a "fat pig."
We see in Thin that anorexia is not just about food: it's about control, about self-image, about self-hatred. It takes more than a few square meals to set things to right, because the disorder is not just a disease to be cured, but an addiction that needs to be healed. One of the most compelling aspects of Thin is that we see that not all the women profiled here are even able to work toward their own recovery: the disorder gives them (in a twisted way) something they don't have in any other way: control over their bodies. As we follow the women through the weeks at Renfrew, we get to see some of them make progress, while others manage (consciously or unconsciously) to subvert their own attempts to get well. Their lives are extremely complicated: it's not possible to tell ahead of time which women are genuinely ready to move forward, and which are not.
Thin is also a powerful criticism of the insurance industry's practices: more than half the women at Renfrew are forced to leave before they're ready simply because their insurance ran out or the insurance company decided that they'd had enough treatment. It's inhumane but also short-sighted: still in the grip of the disorder, these women are often hospitalized again and again, for the physical effects of the disorder as well as for suicide attempts.
The film is handled in a low-key, immediate style: the camera follows the women into various aspects of their lives at Renfrew, into counseling and support sessions, even into the hospital. (There's a somewhat disturbing scene involving a stomach-tube operation.) Interspersed with this material are interviews with the four women whom the film follows most closely, giving us a better insight into their lives and their struggle. There's no voiceover or other narration, but we do get informational captions at times, providing some background information on the interviewees. The film wraps up with a follow-up on the four women, letting us know what happened to them after they left Renfrew.
Thin doesn't stand as the definitive work on eating disorders; it is descriptive, rather than explanatory. I would have liked to have had some more informational material explaining what anorexia is, how prevalent it is, what the treatment options are, and how it can have such a grip on people. But that's not really the guiding principle behind this particular film; instead, Thin shows us the human face of the disorder, so that we can't turn away.
Thin is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image quality is good overall; the interview footage is clean and clear, with bright, natural colors, and the on-the-spot footage within Renfrew is satisfactory in clarity.
The 2.0 audio track is one of the weaker aspects of the DVD. The sound is muddy and often hard to hear clearly.
There are no special features.
Thin is a powerfully affecting documentary, showing clearly the horrific effects of eating disorders... and also their insidious nature. As a woman who has been under many of the same pressures as these women (facing cultural pressure to be obsessed about weight, dealing with body-image issues), I watched this program with the clear feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I." Thin invites us to face the complexities of anorexia with a clear and objective eye but also with compassion and sympathy. While it's not a definitive work, as it doesn't really explain much about the disorder, it's certainly highly recommended as an eye-opening experience.