Running From Crazy, Barbara Kopple’s superb documentary featuring Mariel Hemingway works on several levels. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the Hemingway brand – Ernest, Margaux, Mariel.
The film contains lots of found family footage, much of it never before seen including excerpts from some 54 hours of film that Margaux had shot for a planned documentary retracing her famous grandfather’s globetrotting.
On another level it’s a poignant testament to those struggling with suicide, either themselves or their families. Mariel is a apt spokesperson for this form of mental illness since she is one or two generations from seven members of her family who have committed suicide, notably grandfather “Papa” and sister Margaux.
And, the film is an intimate portrait of actress-model Mariel, who is fearless in revealing details about her personal life. Her father Jack Hemingway was Ernest’s eldest son and in addition to Mariel and Margaux.
There was eldest daughter Joan, nicknamed “Muffet.” She describes a dysfunctional family life when she was growing up with fierce rivalries between the three sisters, a nightly “wine time” that viewed through today’s lens revealed her parents as alcoholics and perhaps most shocking of all, Mariel’s stated belief that her older sisters were sexually molested by their father. (Mariel makes a passing reference to sleeping with her mother in her bed between ages of six and 16; we can only conclude that this unusual arrangement amounted to sanctuary).
Mariel is famous for being a health nut, and she freely admits that she’s tried every diet, exercise and spiritual regimen under the sun. The result of all of this inner work is a woman who is grounded in her own family (she has two daughters) yet still struggles with inner demons.
Muffet, who is semi-institutionalized for her bipolar schizophrenia, lives in the same town of Ketchum-Sun Valley, Idaho that the Hemingways have populated for more than half a century, yet she offhandedly mentions in the film that a year or more will pass before she can find the time to visit her sister.
“You play different roles in a family,” Mariel says at one point.
Growing up under the bright spotlight of the Hemingway literary legacy and the dark cloud of the family’s history of mental illness, Muffet played the role of the “smart” daughter and daddy’s favorite, Margaux was the wild child party girl (who the other family members openly made fun of her stupidity, which as it turns out, was undiagnosed dyslexia) and Mariel was the quite caretaker, charged with taking care of her mother, who was ill with cancer.
After all these years, the actress who has appeared in more than 30 films and was Oscar-nominated at 17 years old for her role as Woody Allen’s teenage paramour in “Manhattan,” has a new role as the public face of suicide prevention.