In the unforgiving New England winter of 2008, a middle-aged woman starved to death in an abandoned farmhouse. Following her early release from a mental hospital, Linda Bishop wandered onto a vacant New Hampshire property, began squatting in the mostly unfurnished home and subsisted for several months on apples picked from nearby trees, collected rainwater and, eventually, melted snow. When her body was found by a prospective buyer of the property months later, a pair of notebooks were discovered nearby. These pages offered an articulate and artful daily account from a woman who appreciated the natural beauty around her, pondered her own mortality and ultimately succumbed to the delusions of a divinely-inspired rescue that would never arrive.

God Knows Where I Am hinges on those pages, written by Linda in the mentally frayed final months of her life. The directorial debut by veteran documentary producers Jedd and Todd Wider gives Bishop’s final days a bittersweet dignity by filtering her words through a compelling and sympathetic voiceover performance by actress Lori Singer. Visually, the film is dominated by interior shots of a barren farmhouse, the pastoral scene outside or piles of moldering apples like the ones Linda hoarded and ate exclusively until her stash ran out in the dead of winter. The documentary also contains the expected talking-head interviews, with the most significant coming from Linda’s sister and adult daughter, the latter of whom states she loves the mom she recalls from her childhood but grew to hate the ill person she simply refers to as Linda Bishop.

The Wider brothers begin by painting a rosy portrait of the woman Linda was in her younger years: educated and a voracious reader, a free spirit with a big personality. This offers a stark contrast to her precipitous decline when schizophrenia (elsewhere she’s diagnosed as bipolar with psychosis) took hold a bit later in life than is typical of the disease. After a stint waitressing at a Chinese restaurant, Linda began to act erratically as her delusions grew more menacing; at one point she fled her home with her young daughter because she believed that the “Chinese mafia” was after her. When her sister convinced her to get help, Linda vacillated between accepting medication and then going off it again, insisting that she did not have a mental illness.

When Linda encountered trouble with the law – specifically, throwing a cup of urine at a police officer (a felony) – she was deemed incompetent to stand trial and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. However, she remained so articulate, with moments of clarity and a fierce denial that she was sick, that efforts by her sister to take guardianship over her failed. This ultimately led to Linda’s refusal of medication and an early release without any notification of family, per HIPPA regulations. Released unconditionally, she wandered until she found that farmhouse, a temporary oasis and eventual self-imposed prison, where she pored over the dusty textbooks she found in the attic and scribbled in her journal while evading all notice despite neighbors living only a few hundred yards away.

The film touches upon the regulations that kept Linda’s doting sister from any knowledge of the release until she received notice of Linda’s death, but it wisely avoids delving too deeply into the topic. The debate over patient choice when mental illness afflicts their ability to make rational decisions is an interesting one, and the Wider brothers deftly skim the surface of this topic without getting mired in its myriad complexities. Such an in-depth exploration would have detract from the film’s empathetic focus on the last days of a woman lost within herself.

We know from the start that Linda Bishop will die of hunger in that frigid farmhouse, one without electricity or running water and equipped with only a single working heater vent. That doesn’t make the journey recapping those four months, the last 30-plus days of which involve absolutely no food outside of melted snow, any less heartbreaking. It’s the kind of story that sticks with you for days afterwards. As Linda pines for her “husband” Steve, a near stranger she waited on several times at the restaurant years before, she perceives God-given omens in the clouds indicating Steve’s secret plan to rescue her. Her articulately detailed delusions are difficult to hear when we already know the outcome, but the void they leave when Linda begins to give up her misplaced hope are even worse. And what’s most maddening of all, as her cynical daughter puts it bluntly, is that at almost any time she could have simply walked out the door.

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