When it comes to the decision for one to consciously end their life, where is the line? In Justin Schein and David Mehlman’s new documentary, ‘Left on Purpose,’ this boundary between moral responsibility and a person’s right to their body is openly explored. With the lens on former Yippie activist, Mayer Vishner, we see how his past and life trajectory has taken hold, leading to Mayer’s decision to plan and end that life. Set for its world premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival this week, this film will surely be a topic of true heart with no right answer.
What begins as a journey around Mayer’s life in New York City and as a spokesman for peace in the 60s, his word against the world while rubbing elbows with musical giants, becomes something completely different during the filming process. While Schein debates turning off his camera so as to avoid conflicts as an accomplice to Mayer’s planned suicide, the camera is also a lifeline. Schein captures Mayer defending his lack of purpose and right to die. “I never lived the way I wanted to,” Mayer says in the film, reflecting his downhill slope. “My life has been devoted to trying to be useful, useful in stopping pain.” And now that pain is his own. Mayer’s cycles of long-term depression, alcoholism, and loneliness from those he’s pushed away are the beasts he’s not been able to conquer.
Despite a heavy heart is watching a smart and gentle man give up on life altogether, there are glimpses of his fortunes in character that leave you sympathetic and perhaps with a greater understanding of his perspective. As Mayer devotes to his community garden, is able to connect with children and volunteers that visit the garden, participates in Occupy Wall Street, and begins to show sparks of enthusiasm again, it’s possible to wonder if he’ll change his mind. As director and subject grow closer, Schein contemplates the power of film to possibly create a different ending, offering an example of Mayer’s purpose in life. As friends and professionals weigh in on their position, both cases of intervention and the right to choose are given fair say. Though a lover of peace, Mayer’s love of life waned, and through this beautifully shot film we can witness the platform that let’s him explain why.
The film will screen October 1 at Bearsville Theater in Woodstock at 5:30pm and again October 3 at Upstate Films I in Rhinebeck at 6:00pm. Tickets can be bought here.