“VISHNER–Mayer. Forced into this life on February 13, 1949. Left on purpose on August 22, 2013.”
So reads the New York Times obituary that legendary anti-war Yippie activist Mayer Vishner left to be posted after his death. Left On Purpose is the story of a multi-year friendship between filmmaker Justin Schein and Mayer Vishner, associate of Abbie Hoffman’s, former editor, stubborn contrarian. What begins with Schein’s simple curiosity about Mayer’s intellect, values and the rebellious legacy of his countercultural generation turns into a dark yet also profoundly humorous journey through what Mayer references as “My existential project.” For, despite years of therapy and medication, Mayer is deeply depressed. He believes existential suffering to be as painful as physical suffering– and, in his view, just as incurable. Claiming to his doctor that he is “dying of loneliness,” fearful of becoming a burden to others, his health ravaged by years of alcoholism, Mayer asserts his right to his “last political act,” the right to end his life. Justin, in turn, is forced to figure out how to negotiate his role as filmmaker and friend.
A gripping, character-driven, multi-layered story, Left On Purpose is a film about social responsibility and the ethics of filmmaking. It’s also a story about a generation for whom hedonistic witty defiance of the rules of bourgeois American normative life was a vital way of being––and choosing not to be. Most of all, it is a film about facing the difficult choices of helping a friend in pain.