In the search for beauty, truth, belonging and destiny, it’s hard to imagine a more desperate answer than American consumerism, except perhaps for every other system we’ve ever tried. The endless mouth of modern life is far from simply a capitalist problem, anyway, that much is clear. Overconsumption devours nearly every culture, religion, and system of living on the planet, a symptom perhaps simply of evolving in a state of hunger, which has largely been answered in modern times by technology that produces more than we could ever need, by and large. So without any evolved counterbalance, we in the 1st world grow fat, but that isn’t even the heft of it. The worldwide plague of our epic oral fixation can’t be measured by any scale. Eating disorders manifest in every body type, devouring statistics at a rate of 15% of the entire American population being victims to severe disorders, 61% of adults being overweight, but 5 in every 100 women having Anorexia or Bulimia, 13% of girls under 20 having some sort of binge or purge disorder . . . and these are only the reported numbers. This does not include everyone who thinks McDonald’s is appropriate food. This does not address the holocaust of factory farms. This does not include the starvation and hunger that still today ravages the 3rd world, often literally right across the tracks from our high-rises and grocery malls.
It’s enough to make you want to try Ramadan. Or something more drastic. But that’s the trouble, you see, this goes deeper than any one solution. When your entire society is suffering from a debilitating abusive relationship with the very stuff of life, untangling a solution is going to be complex, and at least as much psychological as practical.
Enter Swallow, the new drama from Writer/Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis. He’s not going to beat you over the head with this stuff, not like I just did anyway. Carlo introduces us to his characters smoothly, so that when Haley Bennett (as Hunter, who is brilliantly detestable here) first puts that marble in her mouth, you’ll be at least as intrigued as disgusted, wondering just what the fuck is about to unfold. Maybe you’ve heard of pica disorder before, but even so this is going to be hard to watch, as what begins with a relatively innocent bodily dare develops into a dangerous compulsion, threatening the life of both Hunter and her unborn child. In a fantastically off-putting slow burn, we follow her down the path of this odd consumptive disorder, far past the point of no return, as she tries to eat everything from batteries to screw drivers to dirt. At every turn you’re likely to find yourself frustratedly asking the screen, “WHY???”
And that’s where Swallow finds it’s footing, and becomes worth watching, as something scarier than most horror flicks would ever dare to become. There’s every chance you’re not going to like watching it. Hunter is impossibly unhappy. Her husband is a douche. Her own family is unsympathetic at best. Her rich house is a boring prison. Her life is a talentless void. Consumption becomes her power, her secret, her strange identity, her release, and in this it gradually takes over her life, until she is forced to choose between truly giving up and truly letting go. Only by facing herself, and her troubled origins, will she ever find hope and a real life.
The ending is powerful, if a touch hollywood-ized. That last shot is a statement about the commonality of eating disorders, and the invisible struggles we all face – in particular females – and if you didn’t get it, slap yourself and look again. Props also go out to Laith Nakli for his awesome, subtle portrayal of the nurse Luay. I’ll look for his name again.
This is not simply a depiction of a rare eating disorder. It is a meditation on the functional reality of addiction itself.
In the end, Swallow isn’t so much enjoyable as it is completely necessary. Whoever you are, you probably do have an eating disorder, whether you know it or not. You are addicted. So fucking step up already and do the impossible. Walk away from what doesn’t serve you. Abort your still-born life. Face your truth, whatever it is that keeps scaring you back into that plate, that couch, that tv dinner, that toilet bowl, that pack of cigarettes, that meth pipe, that corporate sellout life. Obliterate your demons – if one painful, dreadful, lonely step at a time – assassinate your addictions, and together maybe we can learn to show some respect for ourselves and our world. Why are we such moths to the flame? Whatever your answer, that’s the truth you need to finally see, the pill you need, at any cost, to swallow. So close your mouth, and open your eyes.