Eyesome seeks to explore the negative impact of body dysmorphic disorder
(BDD) comorbid with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) on the lives of two women
living in modern day Los Angeles. Though many films feature dysmorphia and its
accompanying obsessions, they often do so in one or both of two ways.
Firstly, many depictions of dysmorphia in film use the condition merely as a plot
point or character trait – the story of the overwhelmed athlete, exemplified through her anorexia, the story of the misunderstood serial killer as exemplified through his imagined disfigurement, and so on. Seldom is great attention paid to the issue itself. But for many people, dysmorphia and its co-occurring issues (compulsions, manias, social phobias, etc.) aren’t merely obstacles to life – for the sufferers, they are life.
The second trope of this particular mental illness in film is to focus on onset, i.e.
how it came to be in a character’s life. In this way, these films tend to portray sufferers of a certain age. For example, when asked, “What does anorexia look like?” many people would picture a young woman, probably a teenager, subjected to social scrutiny and family stress, and developing disordered behavior around food and exercise.
This type of story, though important to tell, is not emblematic of all experiences
of dysmorphia. Considering that dysmorphia often persists into middle and old age, there
is a whole range of experiences of the disorder not being represented on screen. So many people with dysmorphia don’t fit the stereotype – they aren’t susceptible teenagers. They aren’t fashion models. They aren’t ballerinas or featherweight wrestlers. They aren’t being scrutinized by a parent or badgered by a coach.
Yes, these experiences can be part of the picture for many sufferers. But long after
the dust has settled on this kind of formative experience, people with dysmorphia are still suffering. And because the tendency of a dysmorphic person is to self-isolate, it becomes a lonelier experience as time goes on. Behaviors become habit, and habits become personality traits. Concerned parents die, friends fall away, and significant others give up.
It’s these people’s stories – the stories of a mental illness that’s persisted for years
and years – that are too seldom told. And to people who already feel ugly, unworthy, and
alone, this lack of representation stands to be very damaging. Conversely, telling a story
that cares to take a very close look at their experience has an opportunity to be healing.
In this way, Eyesome looks further – both starting further down the timeline and
delving deeper into a single day. What does an eating disorder look like on an ordinary
day, twenty years down the line? What are the tiny details, textures, and sounds of it?
What does extreme facial dysmorphia look like? What nightmarish images accompany it?
Through Bodine and Celia’s differing but parallel experiences of this disease,
Eyesome bears witness to anyone suffering in a similar way. And because the focus isn’t on a larger imperative (i.e. a character winning the big competition or getting better for her children’s sake), the film places inherent value on the wellbeing of its characters.
And because it’s a story of two women sharing their experiences with each other,
there is an unlikely hopefulness to the film, even in light of its melancholy and
ambiguity. Their support of each other through intimate dialogue mirrors the intention of the entire film – to love by looking and listening. After all, the very act of looking
closely, patiently and non-judgmentally into the lives of people who think the world
would prefer them to look different or disappear altogether is an act of loving resistance.