Suicide and Fame


Read an article this morning in the Hollywood Reporter on the suicide of director Malik Bendjelloul (Oscar winner for the documentary Searching for Sugarman). I found Searching for Sugarman inspiring as a film (simple footage incredibly edited and animated to create a compelling story that explored art and commerce and popular culture through the story of musician Sixto Rodriguez) and was shocked to learn of the death of it’s young director. The article, written by Scott Johnson, opens with a very cinematic description of the scene of his death:

In the late afternoon on May 13, a young man with a mop of soft brown hair and a delicate frame stood on the platform of the Solna Centrum metro stop in Stockholm, Sweden, waiting for the Blue Line. It was rush hour, and the station, one of the deepest in Stockholm’s rail system, was filling up with commuters leaving the city. At the bottom of a long escalator, cavelike tunnel walls had been painted with elaborate pastoral scenes from the 1970s: lush green hillsides studded with fir trees and a giant yellow moon rising against a vast, dark red sky. Vignettes of Swedish life were overlaid against this Nordic backdrop — chain-saw-wielding loggers presiding over a recent clear-cut, a twin-engine prop plane taking flight, and a solitary violinist standing in a field pondering the city’s encroachment. At one end of the platform was a sign. “Stop!” it warned. “Unauthorized people prohibited on the tracks.”

The article raises many questions – why would someone who had attained such success fall into such a deep depression so quickly? what are the downfalls of the creative process? You work on something for years and successfully complete it – but then what? Perhaps the process is as important as the result in creative endeavors? What are the chemical manifestations of depression and creativity and how can we make sense of them? I don’t know that there are clear answers to any of these questions, although the article attempts to provide some.

– Jennifer Dean


  1. Daniel D'Arezzo

    I don’t think it’s productive to link suicide with potential “downfalls of the creative process.” Millions of people have committed suicide and never shown the least artistic impulse. Sure, some artists commit suicide. The suicide of the young poet Thomas Chatterton was very troubling to Wordsworth and other English poets of the time, and Wordsworth paired him with Robert Burns as examples of poets who “begin in gladness” from which come “despondency and madness.” But Chatterton killed himself because he was starving to death, and Burns died of a tooth extraction gone wrong. In Argentina, the poet Alfonsina Storni is best known for having drowned herself in 1938 at Mar del Plata, where there is a monument to her; there is also a famous song, “Alfonsina y el mar,” memorializing her suicide. But her suicide had more to do with breast cancer than with poetry. Her friend Horacio Quiroga, whose surreal stories are considered an influence on Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Julio Cortazar, had killed himself the previous year–not because he wrote surreal stories but because he was suffering unbearable pain from terminal prostate cancer. My guess is that the suicide of Malik Bendjelloul had everything to do with garden-variety depression and almost nothing to do with film making.


  2. Jennifer Dean

    I agree. Suicide and circumstance in general I don’t think necessarily provide coherent cause and effect… unless you are referring to euthanasia which has less to do with depression and more to do with practicality. But I do think depression is difficult to comprehend and the article in question is just trying to make sense of the incomprehensible.


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