I can’t explain why I started watching Oprah Winfrey’s network documentary series about Lindsay Lohan, simply called “Lindsay.” We lived in Manhattan when her infamous Marilyn Monroe-esque photos were published by New York Magazine. There was something about Lindsay juxtaposing herself with such a tragic and talented figure that made her surprisingly interesting. But honestly, the subsequent jail time, trips to drug rehab, and tabloid partying lifestyle made me sort of numb to caring. And then Oprah decided to make her life a pet project. And I was compelled to tune in.
The series begins on a note of hopeful promise. Lindsay comes out of her 6th stint of rehab on a mission to find balance and peace in her life. The series begins with a sort of “real talk” interview with Oprah. Oprah asks Lindsay what she wants out this experience and she expresses a desire to be authentic. Like the fairy godmother of any sober reality TV show, Oprah makes the viewer feel like she supports Lohan and wants the best for her in this valiant effort to proclaim her most “authentic” identity.
Initially, it appears that Lindsay does not go this transition alone. Her sober coach, Michael, accompanies her in a move from LA to NYC. Not long after arriving, she heads out to Long Island, and we meet her equally infamous mother, Dena Lohan, at their family home. Even Lindsay’s kid brother makes an appearance as well, a normal kid brother. There is a comfort in knowing that she appears to be surrounded by people who know and love her. But this stability falls away.
Lindsay’s life in NYC is quickly challenged by her inability to rent an apartment. She lives in a hotel room for well over a month. It is unclear if the issue is her unpredictability or simply that landlords want to charge the starlet more than they should. Either way, this liminal space she must live in is incredibly challenging. She says that having spent much of her youth living and partying in hotel rooms makes living in one long-term is difficult. As though living in a small space enveloped by a documentary film crew would normally be a breeze.
While Lindsay is surrounded by people, she appears to continuously feel completely alone. First, there are the paparazzi. Trying to make it from her hotel room to an AA meeting appears almost impossible. On some level this is the hardest thing to watch. AA seems like the one place Lindsay could find communal support, and yet even that is taken away from her.
And then there’s the cadre of people whose job it is to be with Lindsay all in the name of “help.” There’s the British girl who is sent to organize Lindsay’s closet after knowing her for mere days. Or the new-agey Life Coach who hawks positive affirmations, exercise, and candle lighting—all the while pushing Lindsay to talk about her personal struggles with sobriety in a way that feels exploitative. Even her personal assistant has only known her for a month. She is walking in a crowded, noisy wilderness.
In one of the toughest moments of the show, the director asks her sober coach, Michael, if he thinks that Lindsay has remained sober since leaving rehab. After a pause worthy of a priest disclosing confession he responds, “I’m not going to discuss whether or not Lindsay is still sober. Lindsay’s sobriety is between Lindsay and Lindsay.” And while I know what he was saying, that addicts are responsible for themselves, it just felt like one more signifier of just how alone Lindsay really is. Truly, the isolation she experiences is terrifying. It is all incredibly hard to watch. And yet, I keep watching.
Once she gets an apartment, things don’t really get better. She cancels on the camera crew to film when she has promised. There are accusations of her drinking again, one of which she verifies. Her mom gets a DUI. Eventually, Oprah flies in from Chicago to have a Come to Oprah. She asks Lindsay if this is really the right moment to do a documentary: “If you are not ready to keep the commitment, I’m really okay with that.”
“No,” Lindsay quietly responds, “I want it.”
What follows is Oprah giving Lindsay a sort of “get your life together” pep talk that we have all come to expect from the magnetic Ms. O. She tells Lindsay to “celebrate” her sobriety so far and to remember that people “want her to win.” But then, she lays out the truth. Oprah looks Lindsay Lohan straight in her vulnerable, lonely eyes and says, “The vultures are waiting to pick your bones…if I were you, I wouldn’t let them have me.”
Oh that Lindsay had that kind of control. Oh that any of us did.
Immediately a passage from 1 Peter came to mind: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
In the end I wonder if we are watching the Lindsay documentary because her desperate aloneness is so very familiar. Amidst the self-help aisle of “positive and affirming” spirituality why are we left feeling more empty than when we began? We were not made to walk this world alone. We need profoundly real community. And yet, Lohan embodies a crippling aloneness, surrounded by people, filmed for us all to behold.