Friday, March 31, 2017

God Knows Where I Am: A Death in New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s state motto is still “live free or die,” but the steady population influx from Massachusetts has made it a very different place. Ironically, the “live free or die” ethos apparently still persists in terms of patients’ rights and legal competency. In the case of Linda Bishop, a state judge essentially released her from all treatment constraints over the objections of her family and mental health caregivers, putting her in a position to make good on their motto. Starting with the discovery of her body, Jedd & Todd Wider work backwards, chronicling Bishop’s final days in God Knows Where I Am (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

We learn from Bishop’s friends and family she was once a loving mother and the general life of any party, but her struggles with schizophrenia took a toll on her personal relationships. As is often the case, she periodically went off her medication, based on seemingly reasonable concerns. Unfortunately, she was suffering from full-fledged paranoid delusions by the time she started squatting in an empty farmhouse.

The Wider’s base their film on the diary Bishop kept during her time living secretly in the farmhouse (living off apples and snow melt from the back yard), which the police investigators also relied on to determine a cause of death. The excerpts narrated by Lori Singer deliberately escalate in their delusional disconnect from reality, but they also paint a picture of a woman who still embraced life.

In terms of tone, GKWIA fits into the spectrum somewhere between Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life (the docudrama about Joyce Vincent, the woman discovered in her London studio apartment three years after her solitary death) and Peter Liechti’s The Sound of Insects (an experimental meditation on an unknown body found naturally mummified in the woods). Together, these three films would make a hardcore depressing triple feature.

GKWIA should definitely inspire greater empathy for those wrestling with mental illness. Frankly, it also might challenge some preconceptions about cops. Not that we should be surprised, but it is rather striking how sensitive and empathetic the responding officers are when discussing Bishop and her diary.

In general, GKWIA is a quiet contemplation of human frailty and mortality, but it also holds obvious policy implications. Fittingly, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey offers some medical perspective, but his commentary is scrupulously circumspect, even though he would be fully justified in saying “I damn well told you something like this could happen.”

At times, GKWIA is almost too pretty, resembling a series of Ozu pillow shots, but the Wider Brothers clearly convey the wrenching grief of Bishop’s survivors. They deserved better treatment from the system, just as much as Bishop did, if not more so. Recommended for thoughtful viewers who are not prone to clinical depression or spiritual malaise, God Knows Where I Am opens today (3/31) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.