Linda Bishop in God Knows Where I Am (Bond/360)

A remarkable chronicle of loneliness and institutional failure, God Knows Where I Am is a singularly haunting documentary about Linda Bishop, a 52-year-old mother who suffered from bipolar disorder and psychosis.

She was given an absolute discharge from a New Hampshire mental health hospital in October 2007, and managed to find a nearby abandoned house by Interstate 93. Her sister, Joan, who had been her one true ally throughout her life, was not contacted when she was released because of the state’s privacy laws. She was discharged into the world with only her own wits to guide her.

That winter she lived like a ghost in that house, surviving off apples picked from a tree in the backyard. She kept detailed journals that were found when her body was discovered, and these excerpts are wonderfully read by Lori Singer, giving Linda’s words a vitality and spirit that truly bring her to life.

The documentary is filled with sadness, but also more tension than would be expected. At a certain point, the co-owners of the house where Linda was hiding out came for a visit. They used the place mostly as storage, and wanted to retrieve some items. Linda heard them coming and was able to hide, even noting later in her journal her terror and panic at nearly being discovered. The co-owners of the house recall a singular, tangible creepiness that had pervaded the house, as Linda’s depression and isolation seemingly soaked into the physical surroundings. They found no definitive trace of an intruder, though they were inspired to check every nook and cranny of the place.

Throughout that long, cold, snowy New Hampshire winter of 2007, Linda used no electricity, since the house’s power was turned off, and so her only light was the sun. Her only food were apples, and her only stimulation or outlet was journaling. She was lucky that a patch of the house still received heat, due to an oversight: a pilot light that should’ve been deactivated. So she would sit on this one heated spot of the floor to keep from freezing.

Though we learn much about her final days, the film takes a comprehensive view of Linda’s troubled life. We see her relatively happy childhood and her early days as a caring mother to her daughter, Caitlin. Slowly but surely, however, Linda’s mental illness drives a permanent wedge between mother and daughter, with Caitlin formally severing all ties by her 19th birthday. (Linda also got involved in activism near Ground Zero after 9/11, and made some lasting impressions on the people gathered there.)

A strange, sad life that met an unimaginably cruel end, God Knows Where I Am is the scariest, saddest film of the year.

Directed by Jedd Wider and Todd Wider
Released by Bond/360
USA. 97 min. Not rated