films

HBO’s New Documentary ‘Mommy Dead and Dearest’ Explores Munchausen Syndrome

Munchausen by proxy

Dee Dee Blancharde and Gypsy Rose are an infamous mother-daughter pair that made the kind of tragic news that sends chills down our spines. The story of their relationship made headlines when it was initially reported at Buzzfeed by Michelle Dean in 2016.

Their story, or rather, their outside story, looked tragic and beautiful: Dee Dee was a selfless, saint mother taking care of her sick daughter, who suffered from epilepsy, paralysis, and leukemia. But then, Gypsy killed her mother. The surprising, and yet not so surprising part of this, is the fact that Gypsy may have been suffering from Munchausen by proxy. You see, she actually wasn’t sick at all–her mother was making it all up. This is why Gypsy’s bizarre life is the subject of Mommy Dead and Dearest, a new HBO documentary.

Vox explored the situation, stating:

“As she got older and matured into an awareness of her situation, Gypsy attempted several times to escape her mother’s control, to no avail; each time, Dee Dee convinced her daughter’s would-be rescuers that Gypsy — by that time a legal adult — was an underage minor completely under her control. Dee Dee also set up power of attorney once Gypsy turned 18, which barred her daughter from making her own medical decisions or even having access to her checkered medical records.

And even though she spent so much of her life cooped up inside with her mom, Gypsy managed to find love online. She could escape, if only for minutes or hours at a time, through Facebook and chat and sexy cosplay. Nicholas Godejohn was one of Gypsy’s only human connections besides her mother, but three never made as much sense as two.”

Erin Lee Carr, the director, told Elle in a recent interview why she decided to take on the project–and what it was like traversing a sensitive and mysterious topic:

“In terms of access, that took a long time. Gypsy was facing a possible life in prison, and [her lawyers] were like, ‘No, we don’t want you coming near our client. This is not the time for this to be happening.’ So, it was about approaching the family in a careful way and starting a dialogue with Gypsy and with her lawyer, for the most part.

I met Claude [Gypsy’s father]. He said, “Come on in, baby,” and he kissed me on the mouth. And normally, I wouldn’t like that sort of thing, but he was a southern, kind of just a weirdo, who just wanted to tell a story. There was no tension, they just kind of said whatever was on their mind. As a documentary filmmaker, that’s rare. We are measured as human beings. We think before we talk. …

I think that in the interviews that we had watched with her, it was very pronounced, how high her voice was. It was very in line with the ‘little girl’ personality her mother had developed. I went to the prison and did an off-the-record conversation and her voice was like that.”

Carr went onto to add:

“I love thinking about these things. Maybe every documentary director feels this way. True crime has this sort of weird reputation within the doc community, but for me, and the reason why I’m attracted to it and drawn to it, is that it’s the human stakes. It’s life and death. That seems totally grandiose, but I like when there are real stakes, that a life is on the line. I will always be fascinated by that.”

Even now, it’s impossible to say if Gypsy murdering her mom was largely her idea, or her boyfriend’s–or most likely, a mix of both considering Godejohn represented a way for her to escape her controlled and pleasureless life. As Vox states:

“From the moment she met Godejohn on a Christian singles website, they planned their romantic escape from the woman who’d kept her in captivity. Ultimately, they planned the crime together, and then — for reasons apparently known only to them — mailed the murder weapon, a knife, back to Godejohn’s house in Big Bend, Wisconsin.”

Gypsy was able to reduce her life sentence to a reduced sentence of 10 years due to the circumstances of the case. Watch the trailer below to check out the documentary, which is a devastating display of the abuse of a child, and the murder of a mother– terrible crimes that cannot be separated from each other:

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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