“32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide”
A Personal Documentary
The tragic death of her sister was Hope Litoff’s catalyst for the personal documentary “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide.” Litoff was hoping to find some inner peace while making the film but found herself confronting issues of guilt, denial and addiction.
Near the end of 2008 photographer Ruth Litoff was found in her Manhattan loft, having finally “succeeded” after 20 or more suicide attempts over many years. The police who went to the scene said that the entire apartment was meticulously prepared for the event, with notes, presents, etc. and with instructions for disbursement to various friends and family. A few days earlier, Ruth decorated her Manhattan loft like a beautiful stage set with fifteen suicide notes surrounding her and specially selected gifts for her closest friends. Multiple bowls of cat food were left in case it took awhile to find her.
The film begins on the day that Hope found Ruth dead and it then traces over her fascinating life and work with the highs and the lows and the secrets and the lies. It follows Hope’s journey examining her sister’s rich body of artwork, interviewing friends and family, and reading her journals for the very first time. Ruth excelled at everything she so the reason for her taking her own life was a mystery. Making the film forced Hope to face difficult truths and caused her to drink again after 16 years of sobriety.
Ruth was a complex person who was sometimes dark yet brilliant and Hope wanted this to come through in the movie. Her story is told through interviews with friends and individuals who came to know her in life and through her death. Ruth was incredibly dynamic and her creative mind was never still. She was sexual, never without a boyfriend, and took nude photos of every one she ever had. She struggled and was desperate to understand who she was, and took hundreds of self-portraits that alternated between pride and self-loathing. While photography was her main medium but she also created collages, drawings, wry cartoons and videos and even her many suicide attempts were documented. These are revealing and capture her inner world.
This film is Hope’s effort to know and accept Ruth in death in a way that she was never able to in life and to learn to live with the pain of losing her.
Ruth was a, high-achieving role model who began turning into an over-dependent problem at a young age. Her first suicide attempt came at 13 and she was eventually diagnosed as bipolar, though in retrospect Hope thinks that borderline personality disorder might have been her condition. She had severe mood swings, depression bouts and ideas of suicide that caused broken relationships and other external upheavals.
Both girls reacted to their affluent parents’ crumbling marriage: Hope escaped into recreational drugs and blackout drinking from early adolescence. Even before Hope started drinking again, her husband, Todd, worried that she won’t be able to handle the emotions.
We see that Hope may have laid Ruth to rest at last to a degree, but her own issues will be with her for a long time. The film is emotionally powerful and is difficult watch. It speaks deeply to those who have struggled with depression or addiction or loved anyone who has.