Now streaming: “God Knows Where I Am” is an unflinching look at homelessness and mental illness

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The documentary, “God Knows Where I Am” spares no details to relay the story of Linda Bishop, a mentally ill homeless woman. Through Bishop’s diaries and interviews with her family members and those linked to her final days, audiences get an unsentimental look at how the system often fails both the mentally ill and their families.

“God Knows Where I Am”- – presumptions

Based on the film’s title, some viewers will have the idea that they know where the story is going to go. And perhaps some do. Mostly, though, it is unlikely that people settling in to watch this film (now streaming on Netflix), understand what they are getting into. Bishop’s story is going to feel too close to home for some people. The face of homelessness is often found in urban areas and the population is too often depicted as people of color (not always, often). The truth is, homelessness has no color and the reasons for it entering people’s lives are as myriad as the people it affects.

“God Knows Where I Am” is not a wistful statement. Instead, it is declarative. Bishop’s illness never robbed her of the ability to communicate with words. Her last days are catalogued in a diary, and a voice over narrator reads the passages.

In subtle and overt ways, “God Knows Where I Am” is a different sort of homeless narrative. Even with other people from Bishop’s life providing interviews and hopefully insight, the story remains Bishop. Instead of watching the documentary to get answers from authority figures, audiences will find themselves waiting to read and hear from the diary.

Because of the commitment Bishop had to keeping the diary, viewers get an unflinching perspective on the woman who showed up in a New Hampshire farm house and ended her days there.

About: “God Knows Where I Am”

By the end of the movie, one take away that might be gained is the knowledge of how important it is for mentally ill people to be treated properly. Too often, and it happens here too, the mentally ill have to be treated or courses of action taken on the basis of someone else’s convenience. The rudimentary help some patients receive is often given with the idea that someone else is “helping” them, and they ought to be  grateful. That is just one of the complications that undergirds this film.

Beautiful scenes of New England in fall, then winter, fill the screen for most of the film. Audiences are treated to lines from the diary right away, and to the idea of how important it was for Bishop to gather apples. From the diary to the visuals, Bishop could have been a poet living in an empty farmhouse. But as the movie goes on and all the questions about how she came to be at the location are answered, it is clear that Bishop is in need of an intervention. But no one but God knows she is there. There are neighbors in easy walking distance, but  it doesn’t occur to Bishop to ask them for help. She strives for independence.

Audiences find that just because something is written down does not make it true. At a certain point in her diary, she begins to complain about not being able to share certain sights and moments with her husband. Once audiences learn she is divorced, they look and listen for clues that she has gotten remarried. As it turns out, the person she calls her husband is married, and Bishop has only met him one time. But in her delusional state, they are married. She is at one point states that he is the most important person in her life. The information comes as a hurtful shock to Bishop’s daughter.

The film must be watched to understand the complexity of mental illness, especially as it impacts Bishop. The role of the diary becomes more poignant as the film goes on, and by the end, viewers are left with the idea that more could have been done. But what exactly and by whom remain unanswered.

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2 responses to “Now streaming: “God Knows Where I Am” is an unflinching look at homelessness and mental illness”

  1. I guess I don’t understand why, during the Christmas holidays, the family wouldn’t have discovered she was no longer in the mental institute? Why wouldn’t someone have went to visit her, or at least send a Christmas card or gift?

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