'32 Pills' Helps Sober Filmmaker Come to Terms with Sister's Suicide

By David Konow 05/16/17

"Making the film has forced me to face difficult truths and caused me to drink again after 16 years of sobriety."

32 pills documentary film
Photo via Facebook/32PillsMovie

With the controversy over the show Thirteen Reasons Why, there’s been a lot of attention on the subject of suicide lately, and indeed, when someone takes their life, the survivors usually try to find out why as well. This was a big factor in Hope Litoff making the film 32 Pills, which is subtitled "My Sister’s Suicide."

32 Pills is an HBO Documentary Film production, and in the Hollywood Reporter’s review, Frank Scheck writes, “More and more documentaries seem to be made as much for self-therapeutic as informational purposes. Rough-hewn stylistically and occasionally bordering on self-indulgence, 32 Pills nonetheless packs a powerful emotional punch… It’s a difficult film to watch, but it will certainly resonate deeply with anyone who has struggled with depression or addiction or loved anyone who has.” 

Litoff’s older sister Ruth was a photographer who had a history of mental illness. She attempted suicide a number of times before she finally ended her life in 2008. As Hope says in the film’s press notes, before her sister ended her life, she “decorated her Manhattan loft like a beautiful stage set with fifteen suicide notes and specially selected gifts for her closest friends. The film follows my journey as I examine her rich body of artwork, interview friends and family, and read her journals for the very first time. She excelled at everything she did. She was my hero. Why would she want to die?” 

For Hope, this documentary was like a detective story. “I’m trying to piece it all together,” she says. “But making the film has forced me to face difficult truths and caused me to drink again after sixteen years of sobriety…will the process set me free or destroy me?”

Hope subsequently went back to rehab, and while it was a very painful process, making 32 Pills helped her come to terms with the loss of her sibling. “This film is my effort to know and accept Ruth in death in a way that I was never able to in life…and to learn to live with the pain of losing her.” 

In a review of 32 Pills, Variety wrote that the documentary was “gripping and discomfiting…this first directorial feature is the kind of diaristic inquiry that can seem self-indulgent but here sports a fearlessness that transcends vanity…” And as Variety concludes, making the film had to have been “cathartic” for Hope Litoff to make, “and will likely prove the same for many viewers as well.” 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.