We’re all born with certain traits and talents inherited from our parents and ancestors. In the case of Ernest Hemingway, he passed down a creative legacy that has continued to his grandchildren and beyond. Sadly, his genetic endowment has also included bouts with mental illness similar to the writer’s own famous struggles with depression that eventually lead to his suicide.
In the new documentary “Running From Crazy” director Barbara Kopple explores the so-called “Hemingway curse” through the eyes of actress and model Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of Ernest. A candid New York Times profile of Hemingway that ran last week paints a picture of her as frank and proactive in the continued battle with her family’s dark demons.
In addition to her grandfather’s suicide, Hemingway’s sister Margaux took her own life at age 41 and her eldest sister, Muffet, has been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. These tragedies have forced Mariel to look closely at her own mental health and find ways to combat the fits of depression that have plagued multiple generations of her family.
“When Margaux died, I thought, Oh, no, it’s my turn. I’m going to get the sickness,” Hemingway told the New York Times. “Honestly, I thought I could catch it.”
Hemingway has turned to a variety of holistic and naturopathic remedies to achieve a lasting mental peace, including a highly disciplined regimen of organic foods, yoga, and plenty of early morning sunshine. She’s also been candid when speaking about her family’s painful history in order to help others cope with their problems and normalize the stigma that surrounds issues like depression and suicide.
“All I want to do is to inspire others to say, ‘It’s O.K., I’m not alone, I can tell my story,’” Hemingway told an audience according to the New York Times profile. “There is mental illness and mental instability practically in everybody’s life.”
Kopple recently said that she didn’t have to prod to uncover Hemingway’s vulnerable side; her candor in the film is a natural outgrowth of her personality and desire to help others.
“She wanted to do it,” Kopple said. “She wanted to do that not only to get it out, because she had been harboring it all these years, but also for her family, for her daughter. It was time they knew their history, and also for other people. So that if she told their story, perhaps they wouldn't be so shy about telling their story.”
Hemingway has never been shy about sharing her story. She’s spoken extensively about her battles with anorexia and other eating disorders, and has penned several self-help books. Her honesty and transparency was inspiring to Kopple, who hopes it will be to others as well.
“I think that what I want people to get from the movie is, here's a family that has gone through a lot. And here's a family that's really putting a lot on the line right now. And if this could end some of the stigma of what mental health and suicide is all about and get people talking about it, and get people to express more love to each other, I think we would've succeeded tremendously,” Kopple said.
"Running From Crazy" opens in select theaters on Wednesday.