The Bridge

The Bridge
Directed by: Eric Steel

thebridge1.jpgIn 2004, 24 people leapt to their deaths off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and every year this famous suspension bridge hosts many people who travel to it to end their lives. The Bridge tackles a subject that has never really been dealt with as the exclusive subject of a documentary film. The reason is likely that the subject, suicide, is the most dark and personal decision a person can make. Although the film seems fairly cut and dried dealing with an obvious end the film seems to hold endless questions.

Director Eric Steel and his crew filmed the Golden Gate Bridge for an entire year and caught all of its suicides on film. He then followed up with the families and friends of the deceased to try and find answers about the suicides. The film follows three main subjects and adds a few B stories along with quick shots of deaths that are not explored or explained. Ultimately, as was expected, no one could really explain for sure what drove these people to jump. We only know what we see in their final moments but we will never be given the answers as to why they did it.

The film is ultimately about the Golden Gate itself, its appeal and its draw for people wishing to end their lives. The film uses the Golden Gate as a stage exclusively, filming nothing but the bridge and the families and eyewitnesses surrounding these suicides. Multiple angles of the Golden Gate littered the film showing views of it from different points of San Francisco and many from the base of it as people happily played in its domineering presence. The shots convey a sense that the bridge holds a sense of constancy, safeness and a sense of trust with the bridge.

It’s difficult to watch footage of depressed people who come to this bridge and spend their last moments searching for answers or building courage. Do people who feel powerless come to the bridge because it seems to be powerful and stable? Are they hoping to find inspiration from it in their last moments? Or are they searching for answers as if the bridge will provide them with a reason to continue their lives? It’s upsetting but fascinating watching these people’s last moments as they stand reflecting, and then 4 seconds later crash into the water. Do you remember the first time you saw either plane crash into the World Trade Center? It’ll make you feel like that.

thebridge2.jpgGene is a man we follow through the entire film, coming back to his story in segments as the film progresses. His friends and family talk about his dark demeanor but also about his valued friendship and that he was pleasant to be around. Within Gene’s story we follow others who dealt with mental illness and depression. Also we are introduced to a young man who decided on his way to the water that he didn’t want to die and ultimately survived a 220-foot jump. The film also interviews people vacationing who had to witness these dramatic falls and even a photographer who was capturing shots of the bridge who ended up capturing a girl’s suicide attempt with one foot over the edge. But Steel takes his time to listen and capture the story of the families and friends of the deceased.

After watching the film it’s easy to realize how Steel became aware of how to spot a jumper. It’s not hard. As 1000’s of people cross the bridge every day and perhaps stop briefly to take a picture or make a call on their cell phone the obvious jumpers are people with body language of desperation. Head in hand, nervous pacing, anxiously leaning over the edge. But it takes a certain character and also a patient one to film this. To watch and wait for people to jump off a bridge so that you can capture it on film is not something everyone can devote their mind or their time to. An argument can be made that if director sat for a year and filmed this bridge, learning to watch for the character of jumpers why wouldn’t he do anything? Call someone to help? Becoming a true documentary filmmaker involves not interfering with your subjects and not manipulating their lives for the satisfaction or direction of your film. The mind of someone who wants to end their life is clearly in pain and stopping them may be more detrimental than them actually dying.

The film was beautiful and tragic but did it need to be made? Was this information a mass audience needs to be aware of? This isn’t like filming tragedies in East Timor, making the rest of the world aware of its injustice. This is filming a very tragic, personal event. It’s fascinating but heartbreaking. It does follow the necessary building blocks of film however it tells a story, evokes emotion and raises debate. Was this film well done? Yes. Does it need to exist? That’s the debate. — Jackson Main


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