Running from Crazy


Running From Crazy is a documentary directed by Barbara Kopple about the Hemingway family, specifically regarding mental illness throughout the generations. Ernest Hemingway is the most well known member of the family, but you may also be familiar with his granddaughters, actresses Mariel (on whom the documentary is mostly centred) and Margaux, and also Dree Hemingway, Mariel’s eldest daughter who is a successful model and actress.

Mariel compares the Hemingways to the Kennedys, another great American family that were seen to suffer from a ‘curse’. Depression seems to have been the illness that has dogged the Hemingways for generations, and it has manifested as seven suicides (Ernest, his father, sister and brother were four of them), and also sexual abuse, alcoholism, ruthless competitiveness and familial estrangement.

I first blogged about this documentary in 2013. Obviously I have an interest in the subject matter as I have Major Depressive Disorder and, like the Hemingways, it is an illness that reaches back through generations in my family.

Running From Crazy was described by the Guardian reviewer at Sundance as ‘one of the bleakest snapshots of the human soul’. It is certainly very sad in parts but it is refreshing to see a documentary about an artist suffering from depression that doesn’t glamorise the illness or somehow make it the rarified domain of the creatively gifted.

Mariel also lifts the film and makes it very watchable. She’s immensely likeable, level-headed, warm and wise, while still honestly admitting to her own failings. In fact, Margaux, Mariel and Ernest all possess a joie de vivre, a sunniness that shines from them, a charisma that is instantly appealing. Their drive to celebrate the best in life is perhaps the flip side of their depression.

These days Mariel has dedicated her life to suicide prevention and awareness of mental health issues. The last scenes in the film take place at a suicide prevention event in New York, with family members of suicide victims present. Mariel speaks beautifully, with sincere empathy and compassion, and she is a wonderful ambassador for this cause. Running From Crazy is at times a tough film to watch but also a truthful and inspiring portrait of an iconic American family.

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