Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Jedd and Todd Wider’s stark documentary was made possible because its deceased subject, Linda Bishop, left behind a notebook in which she wrote daily her thoughts as she slowly died of starvation—and this was in a farmhouse in New Hampshire by a busy highway. Her schizophrenia had alienated her from her daughter, sister, and friends. From her window, she could see across the road the house of a neighbor whose large-screen TV glowed each night. She died during the winter of 2007/8, but her body was not found until a prospective buyer came to look at the farm in May. How could this happen in America, the land of abundance and neighborly concern? That is what the filmmakers set out to explore in their film, one that will leave you pondering about—well, a lot of things.
Through interviews with her loved ones and old family photos and home movies, we learn of Linda’s painful journey from her happy youth and later motherhood to psychological breakdown when she thought the Chinese Mafia were trailing her. Estranged from her family and made homeless, she wanders around, eventually being sent by a judge to a psychiatric facility. Given a safe home and regular food, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis. Unfortunately, she refused to take her medication, and state law allowed her to do so, even though this amounted to suicide. After weeks of non-cooperation from her, the hospital staff dismisses her –in the cold of winter! Trudging along a highway she comes upon the abandoned farmhouse where an old apple orchard provides her with food, and the snow her drinking water.
From her journal we see she is a deeply religious person, quoting Scripture after Scripture. The title comes from her. As she eats the last of the apples and grows weaker and weaker after Christmas, she observes that God knows where she is, even if no one else does. Even though she sees the neighbor’s house and the many cars and trucks passing by, she is so out of touch with reality that she does not just get up and walk out to ask for help.
One of the interviewees that we see many times is her sister Joan who lived fairly near the farmhouse. What a heart-wrenching scene when she remarks that she knows of the house where her sister died. She observes that she must have passed it 50 times or more during her travels up and down that highway.
Although one might speculate why the God who knows where Linda Bishop is did not intervene to save her, the filmmakers’ intention is clearly to get us to discuss and act upon the woeful laws that allow such an obviously a mentally ill person to continually turn down medical help. Surely a legal guardian, such as the sister or the judge who admitted her to the hospital, should be able to over-ride such a decision. Mention is made in the film that there are two and a half million people in the nation suffering from schizophrenia, and that half of them, like Linda, deny that they are ill. The film also raises questions about the humanity of the staff at the hospital. Granted, she was troublesomely uncooperative, but how could human being send this delusional person out into the cold winter knowing that she had no support system?
Linda’s opening words in the movie sound like that of one of the Psalms, “Dear God, please save me,” she wrote in her journal. There are dozens of such Psalms, and for them, there was a rescue. Not so for Linda Bishop. This film is a fine tribute to her, and if it prods us to change obsolete laws, it is a fitting tribute to her memory. (I write and post this on Memorial Day, 2017)
This review with a set of questions will be in the 2017 issue of VP.