All in the Family: The Hemingway Curse (Documentary Review: “Running From Crazy”)

While the Kennedy Curse came with Assassinations, the Hemingway Curse was all about Suicides . . . seven confirmed and possibly more back through the bloodline of one of the most iconic families in American history.


SnapShot Plot

Running From Crazy is the poignant, unflinchingly honest account of her family’s history as seen through the eyes of the very much alive, Mariel Hemingway as well as the posthumous lens of her doomed, late sister, Margaux. In the sure hands of two-time Oscar winning documentary filmmaker, Barbara Kopple, the film thankfully escapes treacly sentimentality or worse still, becoming a condescending DIY on mental health. Instead it ends up being a love letter – albeit a brutally honest one – by Mariel Hemingway to her entire infuriatingly flawed family but especially to Margaux, the sister she never knew and whose image she herself eclipsed while never meaning to. Her goal is at once personal (to exorcise the demons that have hounded her throughout her life), as well as maternal (to release her daughters from the burden of fear that mental illness carries), and finally social (she has become an advocate of sorts working on behalf of families who have been shattered by suicide). Through interviews, home videos, and a treasure trove of never-seen-before footage shot by Margaux herself, Running From Crazy offers a rare glimpse into a world of privilege, genius and madness that epitomized the Romance of the Hemingway brand in all its tragic charms.



Parting Shot

Mariel Hemingway has been an interesting figure for decades, not only for the legendary lineage from which she springs but for her introverted, shy approach to celebrity and the sincerity with which she’s always projected herself onto the world. Most people remember her stunning debut in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, but I was most fascinated by the juxtaposition of her imposing physical stature and little girl voice in Robert Towne’s visually stunning film, Personal Best, as well as by the film’s frank depiction of lesbian sexuality (long before such treatments were a mainstream conceit in the movies). Now in her 50’s, Mariel Hemingway embraces a lighter, more carefree approach to life, and making this film seems an organic by-product of her emotional and mental well-being.

It’s impossible not to see Running From Crazy as a documentary within a documentary. It turns out that sometime before Margaux’s suicide (35 years to the date after Ernest Hemingway famously blew his brains out), she made her own documentary about her famous grandfather, Winner Take Nothing, which only aired twice, according to Barbara Kopple. While doing research for Running From Crazy, 43 hours of unused footage from Margaux’s project was discovered, which no one including Mariel had ever seen. It’s in these myriad scenes of Margaux’s heartbreaking identification with and adulation of Ernest Hemingway’s larger-than-life legend, mixed in with revealing family footage, that gives this film its cinematic heartbeat.

The two takeaways for me: first, how ironic that the grandchildren of arguably the greatest modern writer in American history should be so, well, uneducated, to put it bluntly. Not only were they never encouraged to study, let alone read their grandfather’s works, but they barely finished their own educations. This is clearly a source of embarassement and shame for Mariel, which ties in with my second takeaway and the reason I found this film so personally resonant. It hit me in the interview with Mariel in which she confesses what she really thought about her sister’s intellect, and shamefaced, acknowledges the cruel nickname the family had for Margaux. Running From Crazy reminds us that no matter how diverse and distinct are the skeletons in our own family closets, we all have them hanging there nonetheless, collecting dust over the years.

In the end, we’re all the same.


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