FFF 2016 Day 3 Left on Purpose

Would You Film Someone's Suicide?

Would You Film Someone’s Suicide?

Left on Purpose
Spoiler Alert–The protagonist of this documentary kills himself at the end. The filmmaker films the discovery of the body.

Normally, I try to not provide spoilers. However, with this film the filmmakers decision to not intervene once he obtained the knowledge that his subject had concrete plans to commit suicide completely overshadows any other aspect of this film. In our opinion, it crossed a line. It’s a shame because the subject of this film deserves to be celebrated. He also deserved to have someone intervene on his behalf. More about this later. For now, let’s look at the film.

If you grew up in the 60’s you knew the names Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner and other anti-war activists who created the Yippies. Not as well known was Mayer Vishner. Although 15 years younger than Hoffman, Mayer was brilliant and debonair. He didn’t seem to crave the spotlight like his more famous friends but he occasionally appeared behind the microphone and was always behind the scenes helping to develop strategies that cast a spotlight on this movement.

By the time of this documentary, Mayer is now an old man. Alcoholic. Clinically depressed. He lives in his same West Village apartment drinking gallons of beer, wearing a different T-shirt every day and seldom wearing a pair of pants. Afflicted with OCD, his small apartment is covered floor to ceiling with mementos from earlier days.

Early in the film it becomes obvious that the filmmaker is drawn into a dilemma when Mayer makes it clear he wants to end his life. They discuss the Heisenberg dichotomy of the filmmaker who now has become entrenched in his own film. From that moment, the movie weaves a tale that looks at Mayer’s history and contribution to society while at the same time wrestling with the moral dilemma of whether or not to sit back and allow the protagonist to follow through with his plans.

As I pondered this quandary at the end of the film, a sudden realization went off like a light bulb in my head. During the entire movie, the audience does not know whether or not the filmmaker will intervene and/or whether Mayer will actually kill himself. This directorial choice to keep the audience in the dark heightens the dramatic element of the film–and steps right over the line as far as I am concerned.

This was a mentally ill man who needed help. This man clearly stated he was going to kill himself. There was a responsibility to notify authorities and get him help. He was not dying from a disease. He was not making a political statement. He was depressed, alcoholic and OCD–All conditions that could be treated. He said he was lonely and didn’t see himself capable of having a relationship. Yet the film was filled with people who clearly loved and accepted him.

At the end of the film, Mrs. LanceAround stated she felt sick to her stomach. For the last two days she has done nothing but speak about how much this film upset her. If that’s what the documentarian was going for, he succeeded.

And shame on him.

A Response From The Audience

Curtis and Mary Muse on the Film

Curtis and Mary Muse on the Film

As I was pondering these thoughts, I overhear Curtis Murray speaking with his girlfriend Mary Gabucan. I ask if I can interview them for the blog. Mary excuses herself for a moment while Curtis gives me his feedback.

“I don’t know, I’m conflicted,” begins Curtis. “I understand mans wanting to make his own decision and I can respect that. There are other heroes from that era that I respect that have gone that same route. Hunter Thompson comes to mind. His was recent and that was very impactful for me.

“At the same time, it seems, watching the film, that it probably was because of his depression. It seemed to be, watching the film, that he refused to see that there were two women in his life that were interested in pursuing some sort of relationship with him. His depression kept him from seeing that.

“Instead of giving away the money, (this refers to a moment in the film where Mayer is paid $50,000 from the University of Michigan for his extensive collection of memorabilia mostly from the 60’s) he could have used the money to order his apartment, quit drinking and lose weight. He had a lot to give. He could have furthered the Occupy movement which now has faded and [he could have] furthered social justice now. That would have been something he could give. Instead of doing that, which would require lots of work…that’s why I’m conflicted. I condemn him for taking the road that he took. I understand it…but the only thing I know is what I saw in that film. That’s only a small snip of a man’s life. There’s no way I could really know everything about it just from that. But from seeing the film that’s my take away from it.

“It was very well done. I understand the filmmaker taking the position that he took…I mean…the brain behind Abbie Hoffman? That man had a lot to give. That’s something special. I don’t know if there’s any books written about him, but I’m certainly going to look him up.”

At this point, Mary rejoins us. She says, “There was a moment where I couldn’t watch, like towards the end. I couldn’t watch him do it so I turned away from the screen.”

Curtis jumps in, “I said I was conflicted cause I understand his choice is in keeping with the principles he stood for–Freedom of choice–and that was his choice. However, I think he had a lot more to offer.”

“There are a lot more choices he could have made,” agrees Mary.

“There are other guys who made that option,” bemoans Curtis. “When Hunter went out, I didn’t leave the house for a week. They could have given more. Granted, Hunter at the time was in a wheelchair. He waited as long as possible. But we all knew that was eventually going to be the route he took. Vishner didn’t seem to me he needed to go the way he did. It seemed that there were two options. He could have de-cluttered his apartment. He could have quit drinking He could have tried to organize activists in New York city. If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang. Maybe I understand the whisper because he wasn’t vocal. But Vishner could have given people direction. He had a lot to offer. He just didn’t see it.”

I ask Curtis how he wants me to identify him in the blog. There’s a long pause as he seems to consider the implications of that decision. Then, both he and Mary give me their full names.

“I really appreciate your comments,” Mrs. LanceAround says to them. “I’m really disturbed by the movie so I appreciated your even handed, intelligent response. I’m wanting to know why the hell someone didn’t have him committed and get him the medications he needed and get him off the alcohol so he could make a rational choice. I don’t feel like he was taken care of.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: