Documentary Releases: God Knows Where I Am (2017) - Reviewed

Brother filmmaking team Todd and Jedd Wider first found their footing in the documentary film scene as regular producers on pictures such as Beyond Conviction and Taxi to the Dark Side before settling into helming one of their own pictures with the 2017 nonfiction piece God Knows Where I Am.  After a limited theatrical run, the film had its television premiere on the Public Broadcasting Service where everyone got a chance to see it.  Focusing on the bizarre and tragic story of Linda Bishop, a fifty-something woman found dead in her New England farmhouse with her lengthy diary left behind chronicling the woman’s descent into madness, God Knows Where I Am aims to dig deep into mental illness and the legal loopholes interfering with the woman’s own protection from herself. 

Interspersing interviews with people who knew her personally with archival footage and still photographs amid her diary logs voiced by Lori Singer, the film is intended to be poignant and moving as the woman begins to lose her grip on reality.  However in the end the film proves to be frustrating when the Widers can’t seem to decide whether to answer all the questions it poses or wear their own arthouse pretensions on their sleeves.  For every piece of information included and dramatized thanks to the painterly camerawork by Gerardo Puglia which utilizes more various film stocks than Moonlight, God Knows Where I Am can’t help but point the camera at extended shots of trees, grass, apples and windowsills.  In other words, the film gets lost amid scenes of padded out fluff which don’t advance the story.  If you were to catch this on the PBS premiere, you might think you’ve stumbled onto a prescription drug commercial.

Yes the film does pose important questions about the gulf between independence and lacking the capacity to make rational decisions, with many curious insights into this woman’s behavior including living entirely on applies and rainwater when she wasn’t wallowing in religious hysteria.  And yet for all the details provided as a viewer I felt no more invested in her story or the tragedy of her plight than I did before viewing the picture.  Coming into it I expected to be moved in the ways like the works of Errol Morris or Andrew Jarecki, who have the uncanny ability to make you empathize fully with complete strangers.  Such wasn’t the case here, which tends to leave viewers remaining on the outside of this woman’s war within herself.

Years prior to the documentary, readers first became aware of the saga of Linda Bishop after the New Yorker’s article of the same name penned by staff writer Rachel Aviv.  Immensely well researched and written, it presents a wealth of information about how this woman went off the rails and met her end with no safety net to catch her.  Personally I’d recommend reading that think piece over viewing this documentary, which filters all of the still-gripping details of that read disappointingly through the prism of a saccharine Hallmark card.

- Andrew Kotwicki