Munchausen’s by Proxy constitutes one of the more mysterious, and even bizarre, medical diagnoses in that it refers to a mother purposely making her child ill in order to fill her own unmet needs. As noted by psychologist Dr. Marc Feldman in this documentary, Claudine “Deedee” Blanchard represents one of the most severe cases seen, with the mother beginning to make up illnesses and disorders in her child Gypsy Rose from the time she was three months old, and continuing until Gypsy was 19. Of course, some of the disorders came about because of the medicine Deedee was giving her—medicines for everything from eye, ear, and muscular disorders, to leukemia and leg paralysis and a host of other complaints—even multiple surgeries. She kept Gypsy in a wheelchair constantly, at least in public. At some medical visits, she would instruct Gypsy to stay in her wheelchair, be calm, and not to move her legs.
Deedee was persuasive with doctors, friends, family, and the communities in which they lived, thereby receiving not only medications, but gifts of trips, a house, and cash in addition. She trained Gypsy well in playing the role of a brave, upbeat child with chronic conditions. She was ingenious in convincing medical doctors that this or that was wrong, and she brought in copies of medical charts to bolster her claims.
Despite all her lifelong efforts, when Gypsy was a teenager she struck up an online friendship with Nicholas Gode John, someone with major problems of his own, and the two plotted a way for Gypsy to escape her controlling mother.
The film directed by Erin Lee Carr reflects her extensive research and exploration of the Syndrome and this case in particular. Numerous people involved were interviewed and are shown: Gypsy herself, family members, friends, attorneys, reporters, law enforcement officers, and physicians. Because Gypsy and Nick committed a crime, the documentary becomes something of a crime thriller as well. Carr was praised for her previous documentary, Thought Crimes: the Case of the Cannibal Cop, and her work as a Vice Media journalist: Click. Print. Gun, both of which have been shown at film festivals and were produced by HBO. In 2015, Variety cited her as one of ten documentarians to watch. With Mommy Dead and Dearest, she has lived up to that appellation.
Carr can be praised as well for giving an example of how psychopathology can be “passed down” through generations. We hear strains in accounts of both Gypsy’s and Nick’s parents and grandparents—and even somewhat in Gypsy herself—of coming by certain traits naturally, either by nature or by learning.
This is an accurate account of the syndrome, Munchausen’s by Proxy, which becomes like a thriller in reporting on an extreme case.