Hot Docs 2017: 32 Pills: My Sister's Suicide
"Dearest sister, Please don't hate me"
"I know you know"
These are the opening and closing lines, respectively, of Ruth Lithoff's suicide note to her sister, Hope. It's one of many letters that she left along with gifts for her loved ones before she took her own life in an immaculately staged room in the middle of December 2008. Ruth struggled her entire life with mental illness (she was officially diagnosed as depressive and bipolar with later diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder). Hope and Ruth were inseparable, and Hope never quite got over her death. 32 Pills: My Sister's Suicide is set six years later, as Hope rummages through her sister's storage container for the first time in an attempt to gain insight into her sister's mental illnesses and hopefully give herself some closure.
Ruth's storage container is filled with a vast amount of three things: notebooks, documenting nearly everything she ever did and chronicling her feelings, photographs that she took, and a mountain of pill bottles, many of which still contain pills. Ruth was an incredibly gifted artist, seeing her heartfelt doodles and jaw-droppingly beautiful photographs (seriously, seeing the range and skill in these photos are reason enough to watch the movie) paint a beautiful portrait of the artist. We get to know Ruth's insecurities, her troubles, her joys. It's uncomfortably private, at times it feels as though we shouldn't be seeing everything we are seeing. The honesty is 32 Pills's greatest achievement.
We learn everything about Ruth through Hope's eyes. We watch all of these revelation's in real time as the obsession takes her over, causing her own life to suffer through fights with her husband and a general stress that threatens her sobriety. Though it seems nothing but destructive for a while, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though it's not quite the clarity I would've hoped for at the end of this emotionally exhaustive journey.
32 Pills: My Sister's Suicide is a deeply personal story about a woman trying desperately to figure out her sister's mental illnesses, something that, speaking from experience, is usually a fool's errand. Perhaps you'll never truly know the extent of somebody else's pain, but this film does a great job at attempting to.