What is pica, the disorder around the movie ‘Swallow’?

the first time we saw images of swallowwe thought that the protagonist was Jennifer Lawrence. And having such a popular actress, it seemed strange to us that the film was not making noise considering, above all, that it had received good reviews after its premiere in 2019. But no. That was the year of Lawrence’s temporary retirement and as we mentioned, the tape did not receive the attention it deserved.

But it is never too late to talk about a film that is worth seeing and that, moreover, is within our reach thanks to MUBI. swallow It is directed by Carlo Mirabella-Daviswhom we remember for directing some episodes of servant of Apple TV + under the command of M. Night Shyamalan.

Haley Bennett as Hunter in 'Swallow'
Haley Bennett as Hunter in ‘Swallow’ / Photo: Special

swallow has as protagonist Haley Bennett, whose performance in this title gave her the top award at Tribeca in 2019. So, it wasn’t Lawrence, but Bennett’s work is spectacular in a film that stands out in all its aspects, especially in the script and production design.

But another thing worth mentioning is that swallow brings to the table a disorder that few know about: itches. So here we tell you what this movie is about and the way in which it presents this little-explored eating disorder.

Official poster for 'Swallow'
Official poster of ‘Swallow’ / Photo: iMDB

You can also read: Fat Funny Girl: When weight defines female characters in film and television


swallow centers its story on Hunter, a young woman who could be defined as “perfect”. She always has her hair and makeup done and dresses formally for any occasion, including having dinner with her husband Richie at the impressive house that their in-laws have just given them.

Kitchen and dishes look impeccable. She goes to bed earlier to arrange the sheets and the quilt so that her husband gets to bed and everything looks good, just like her. Her life seems like a dream a housewife from the 50s or 60s. In fact, the spaces and the wardrobe accompany the idea. Hunter inhabits the house as a beautiful object, not a person.

Hunter is the protagonist of 'Swallow'
Hunter is the protagonist of ‘Swallow’ / Photo: IFC Films

Speak sweetly, smile if ignored, keep quiet when interruptedand assumes derogatory comments about her previous life and “how grateful” she must be because her husband, as heir to a fortune, chose her to be his wife. And now, as the future mother of his son.

When Hunter discovers that she is pregnant, the nightmare changes: her in-laws control her even more and Richie, instead of seeking their well-being, only thinks of his son. Now, the protagonist is a mere vehicle for his family interests. It matters even less.

Image of 'Swallow'
Image from ‘Swallow’ / Photo: IFC Films

Hunter’s Compulsion

Beginning with her pregnancy, and following the advice of a self-improvement book (a gift from her mother-in-law), Hunter develops a compulsion to eat inedible objects. It all starts with ice, but in reality, it takes shape with the ingestion of a marble.

The sensation of swallowing it is liberating. And the idea of ​​getting her back too. Hunter hoards items, placing a value on them that doesn’t seem proportional to the functionality of either what he does or what he eats. Why? because his body does not belong to himand now, it is owned by the Richie family.

Hunter in 'Swallow'
Hunter in ‘Swallow’ / Photo: IFC FIlms

Nevertheless, ingesting objects is the only thing he has control over. The desire and expectations around swallowing a thumbtack (for example), are hers, and nobody notices them, therefore, there is no one who seeks control. Surpassing the ingestion of an item like this represents the only success you are allowed.

As time goes on, changing like a battery, paper, padlock, chess piece, key, button, a thimble, even a porcelain object. But her secret is soon discovered when During an ultrasound for the pregnant, they detect a foreign object… showing a number of items that have not been ejected.

Haley Bennett in 'Swallow'
Haley Bennett in ‘Swallow’ / Photo: IFC FIlms


Following surgery, Hunter is diagnosed with pica, an eating disorder in which a person eats natural or man-made objects that are not digested. Among the most common is ingestion of dirt, mud, hair, sand or even animal feces. But it also occurs between objects.

It is much more likely to find this type of behavior in boys and girlsbut also occurs in Adults with a trend between pregnant women. This is due to an iron deficiency or anemia, in addition to a lack of nutrients. So the consumption of vitamins and certain medications can end the need to eat other objects.

However, pica is diagnosed more in people on the autism spectrum, with intellectual disabilities or some mental disorders such as schizophrenia. According to the National Association of Eating Disorders, pica tends to be recorded more frequently in developing countries where the rates of hunger and malnutrition associated with poverty are higher.

Hunter about to ingest a marble
Hunter about to ingest a marble / Photo: IFC Films

Hunter’s past

But this last part is interesting in swallow. Without revealing many details, Richie hires a Syrian nurse to take care of, or rather watch over, Hunter. As he explains, he left his country to flee the war; and he tells Hunter that if she were from Syria, “she would not have time” to have that “mental problem” (remember that her in-laws have a lot of money).

This means that everyone around Hunter they think it is a tantrum or a way to get attention. But the film reveals a part of the protagonist’s past that accompanies the idea, not the ingestion of inedible objects, but her way of conceiving her femininity as something delicate, something that someone else must protect: a woman who must obey, granting control of every aspect of her life.

swallow is available on MUBI.

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