The Bridge (2006) Dir. Eric Steele
I walked into this film unaware of its background; I assumed it was merely a documentary commenting on the frequency of suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, as most people might. It is only when you look into it (which I just HAD to do after watching it) that the full magnitude of it hits you. It’s not just a look into the bridge and the fact that it’s a suicide hotspot; it’s an abstract narrative of “living stories”, spanning from the start to finish of each suicide. You meet a handful of people (“meet” is used loosely as, despite the fleeting connection you gain, they are just a pixelated body climbing over the rails, staring in awe at the water beneath them), you witness their deaths and then hear from their families.
The film follows a structure for each “character” and you have an ongoing connection with the “man with long hair”, who paces throughout the film. You feel your body tense as the little child within you screams “DON’T DO IT!” every time you see someone casually walk along the bridge – to work, to their homes, or to their deaths.
This documentary was directed by Eric Steele, an American filmmaker and producer who had previously worked on such titles as Shaft and Bringing Out The Dead. Influenced after reading Tad Friend’s article, Jumpers, in the New Yorker, Eric decided to embark on this controversial project in 2004. He set up a camera by the Golden Gate Bridge and captured 23 of 24 known suicides in a full year. He then approached the relatives of the deceased and interviewed them. Unbeknownst to them, he has witnessed and has captured their deaths on camera, with the intention of putting it on film.
This, I suppose, should disgust me. What an awful thing for him to do for the sake of notoriety. Filming people at their most naked, discussing heart-wrenching moments with their families and seeming to cold-heartedly walk away from these moments straight-faced. Watching the film when aware of the process, you sometimes question your own morals – advocating the director’s actions. At the same time, you’re listening to stories of humans as they fall into deep depression, to find the only escape from life itself is to end it. The director, in fact, opens you to each individual story of mental illness as you are then exposed to their conclusions. It’s a different world, and if anything, it’s a world living inside of ours. Some of us have experienced suicide in our lives, or are aware of people who have taken their lives, always questioning their reasoning. I guess this film tries to explain it to you, exposing questions of morality, religion and mental illness.
Despite the rush of fear that filled me throughout the film, it was gut-wrenching every time someone climbed over the railings. Every now and then, you aren’t even given time to feel fear when suddenly an interview cuts to someone throwing themselves off the bridge within mere seconds, and all you can do is look on in awe as you remind yourself that they are no longer alive.
One of the most memorable moments is when a survivor of a suicide attempt is interviewed. He describes his intentions when he was on the bridge, how it felt to fall, how he survived, and how he continues to survive. It’s the most heart wrenching moment of the film. Not only is he opening up to us, you also relate his story to everyone else you see in the film who fell to their deaths and did not survive.
The fact that the Golden Gate Bridge is a suicide hotspot isn’t the topic of this film – that element is considered in interviews and discussed briefly. What is important is telling the stories, speaking to families, feeling true emotions towards something that is usually looked down upon, or ignored completely. Suicide is a controversial topic through the eyes of religion, morality and something as simple as human capabilities. Those who don’t have these feelings refuse to, or simply cannot understand, suicide. This film helps. It helps you understand. It doesn’t solve anything, neither does it promise to, but it helps you connect to humanity.
Despite showcasing deaths (though I will add that when they could, the filmmakers attempted to save people) – the viewing of which tear you apart inside, makes you feel disgusting as you try to turn your face, unable to tear your eyes from the screen every time a shaky image of someone doing the unspeakable – this documentary is phenomenal. The score matches it perfectly; throughout the film, it’s a consistent current, never altering into a crashing wave, never creating tension or suspense as this film is not for entertainment. If you’re sensitive, and are unable to watch something of this magnitude, then please do not. If you feel like you are able to, please watch this film. In its own way, it’s quite beautiful.