Thursday, March 30, 2017

Death becomes her: The Widers' moving testament to the life and demise of Linda Bishop, GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM


Let's admit it up front: GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM -- the new documentary by Jedd and Todd Wider about a woman whose decomposing body, back in 2007, was found in a closed-up house just off a relatively busy New Hampshire highway -- is a grueling experience. But it is also a fascinating and emotionally moving one that will be worthwhile for audiences who care about mental health and the question of how much responsibility the state has in both diagnosing and protecting those of its citizens who are mentally ill.

The body in question belonged to a woman named Linda Bishop (above, left), a divorced mother who, for much of her life at least, appeared to be a happy, smart, relatively popular girl and woman. What happened when and why to change all this is something the movie can only hint at, but eventually, Linda had clearly grown mentally ill (the medical diagnosis was schizophrenia), abandoned her daughter and older sister Joan (above, right), was eventually confined to a state mental hospital then released after some time and left to her own devices.

Those devices allowed her to become so paranoid and out of touch with reality that she eventually starved to death in the cold New England winter, writing daily all the while in a journal (pages of which are shown below) that she kept and which was found along with her body. It is this that the Wider brothers -- shown above (flanking Lori Singer, who provides the film's voice for Linda Bishop's journal), with Jedd on the left and Todd on the right -- make use of in telling this woman's sad story.

The filmmakers also probe family and friends of Bishop, as well as the medical/social services establishment, to discover as much as possible about who the woman was and how she came to die as she did. Their film is a blending of long past with the more recent past, of memory, desire, hope and pain. Lots, especially, of that last one. Along Linda's journey -- which grows ever more fraught and crazy, as she goes on then off her necessary medications, over and over again -- we go from New England to Florida, even to New York City post-9/11 (which offers by far the most surprising moments in the film).

The Widers' accomplishment, aside from telling a story that is both utterly bizarre and predictably horrific yet expected, is in the manner in which they brings us close to Linda Bishop.  They begin their film with the final entry in Linda's journal, which we see and hear but without any real context. Then they fill that context in -- slowly and carefully (this is not a fast-paced movie) -- so that when, at the end, we see and hear this same journal entry once again, the effect is suddenly and quietly heartbreaking. We know this woman now, and yet we also know that, given who she was and how she "played the system" in her own crazy way, there really was little hope for her survival.

God Knows Where I Am is beautifully filmed, the events reconstructed in simple, often stunning ways that never try to hide their "re-creations" while also making them seem part and parcel of Linda' life. Ms Singer's readings are spot-on, and though, during the many interviews included here, you may look for a villain or two, I doubt that you will find one. Everyone -- including, yes, Linda herself -- seemed to do his or her best under difficult circumstances. The movie brings us closer to understanding, even experiencing, mental illness that almost any I can remember.

From Bond/360 and running a rather lengthy (for this kind of film) but never boring 103 minutes, the documentary opens tomorrow, Friday, March 31, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema; on Friday, April 7, at Laemmle's Monica Film Center; and then in the weeks to come, across the country in another 16 cities and even in London, England. To see all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters, click here.

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