God Knows Where I Am

Directors Jedd and Todd Wider know how to create suspense, even from an old news item that probably raised too few eyebrows at the time. The facts are these: unwilling to take her medication or receive any treatment for a mental illness she didn’t believe she had, Linda Bishop was discharged unconditionally from New Hampshire Hospital. To protect patient privacy, her family was not notified. With no support, no housing, and no access to money, Linda wandered until she chose an abandoned farm house in which to hole up. Over the brutal winter months, Linda slowly starved to death, mere feet away from help if she wanted it, without her sister or daughter ever being aware that she was missing.

God-knowsWider and Wider have used Bishop’s case to exemplify the broader problem of how mental illness is addressed both in medical and justice settings, but also take the time to ask intelligent questions regarding individual rights. Because Linda Bishop was in fact an individual: a mother, a sister, a gardener, a knitter, a reader. She died tragically, needlessly, but in life, when she was well, she was  vibrant and engaging. Wider and Wider treat her with dignity, and are able to do so in large part because of detailed journal entries she left behind at the time of her death.

While interviews with her closest friends and family members are illuminating and home movie footage sheds insight on happier times, it is her own ghostly words that prove invaluable to uncovering the truth about what happened to her alone in that farmhouse. Did Linda intend to die? Did she give up hope? Did she wait for rescue? Question her choices? Acknowledge her disease?

While Lori Singer gives voice to Bishop’s words, Jedd and Todd Wider paint us a picture of God_Knows_Where_I_Am_1what her last days would have looked like with truly stunning, poetical cinematography rare in a documentary. Hopelessness and beauty intermingle, making for some stirring if haunting images. Did I sometimes find it a little pretentious? Sure I did. But even an Asshole like me can admit and admire when a documentary is trying to elevate itself. Combined with her journal entries read aloud, these images make her story all the more personal. God Knows Where I Am is both an intimate portrait and a rousing call to action.

 

This movie was screened at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto; this review first appeared at Cinema Axis, home to many more excellent Hot Docs reviews.

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12 thoughts on “God Knows Where I Am

  1. fragglerocking

    Really? They can’t let her family know she’s been discharged with a mental condition untreated? Thank god for our NHS bad as it is. Am wondering did her family know she was in hospital in the first place? If so didn’t they visit and find out she’d gone? Just seems odd, when my Mum was in hospital I was checking every day how she was getting on, by phone at least if I couldn’t get there.

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  2. Liz A.

    This is a film I couldn’t watch. I get how it could happen, especially with HIPAA rules as they are. If she chose to leave, they couldn’t stop her.

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  3. kmSalvatore

    I guess o commented on Fb about this movie and then shared it. I hope this movie makes more people think , and more laws get passed . If this film makes it here I’ll be first in line . Thanks for an awesome review Jay

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  4. Suzette

    My sister n law died alone on her front porch. She locked herself out of her house on a very cold snowy night. She just curled up on the porch and froze. She never even went to a neighbor to ask for help. After an autopsy was performed we were informed she had a very treatable infection in her stomach but she refused treatment of any kind. She lived alone after divorcing her husband of 40 years and the courts said they couldn’t do a thing. It was her choice. She was schizophrenic, refused her meds, after she lost the trust of her psychiatrist of 20 years. Her grown children and siblings tried everyday to help convince her that we were trying to help her but she was delusional and believed we were “out to get her”. It was awful because this could have been avoided if we could have just got her the help she needed. She was only 62 years old. She suffered this disease since her early 20’s and had been in and out of the hospital ever since. It still breaks my heart when I think of the sweet, gentle but tortured soul she was.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I am so sorry. A death like that must be particularly hard on the family, knowing it was preventable. The similarities between your story and this one are amazing, but refusing meds is a hallmark of the disease. It feels like we’re failing these people, and there must be something more that we can do to get them help, but as things are now, too much of this stuff is happening. It’s incredibly sad, but I think that in sharing these stories and talking about this disease, we can maybe better understand what needs to be done.

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  5. Pingback: NHFF 2016 – You in? | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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