Mariel Hemingway Talks Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and the Stigma of Suicide in a New Film


mariel hemingway photo

Mariel Hemingway talks about the blessings and curses of her famous family in her film “Running From Crazy.”

Ernest Hemingway has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. He was the greatest writer of the 20th century yet plagued by the demons of mental illness, eventually taking his own life in 1961. Mariel Hemingway is a member of his dynastic family, the daughter of his oldest son Jack.

She was born into privilege, but more than that, she suffered the pain that went along with her famous name. In all, seven members of her family have committed suicide, including her famous grandfather and great grandfather, and her older sister Margot, among a host of other close relatives.

Mariel herself never struggled with drugs or alcohol like the majority of her family, including her older sisters and parents, but instead, she dealt with own brand of illness through excessive dieting, excessive exercising, and trying to control every aspect of her life. The beautiful star has tried every form of food denial on the planet, from the popcorn diet, to eating raw, vegan, or nothing at all. In fact, she spent an entire year on the coffee diet as she battled bouts of exercise addiction.

She even dropped a bomb that her father sexually abused her sisters. Though she doesn’t ever remember it happening to her, she did remember sleeping with her mother every night. It was hard to swallow because you didn’t know what to make of it–she mentioned it for a few moments and then moved on.

The movie does a good job of showing that relationships, especially those among family members, can be complicated. While there’s a backdrop of love; jealousy, darkness, and a lack of ever being able to convey feelings, makes truly opening up to her sisters and parents too hard to bare.

But while this movie was filled with sorrow and dotted with shame, Mariel showed how you don’t have to be what you’re born into. She’s made a point of giving her two beautiful daughters the love she never felt. Her daughters seem somewhat removed from the gloom she witnessed. And in those times when they have dealt with bouts of depression, there seems to be a growing openness that allows them to suffer a little less.

This documentary isn’t just about the Hemingways and the mental illness that plagued their family, it’s about the darkness we all face and how we deal with it in our own lives. As Mariel says, no one will ever love you as much as you love yourself. Part of loving yourself is knowing who you are at a deeper level. Though she admits she struggles, through clean living and self knowledge, she thrives. This movie is certainly worth a watch, especially if you’re as intrigued by the famous family as I am. All families have struggles, though in her case the struggles are magnified.

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Image: Steve Harbula

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Sara Novak