Wednesday, July 2, 2008

#6: The Bridge


The Bridge
Directed by Eric Steel
Released February 16, 2007

In the four seconds it takes for a person to fall from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge railing to the water, their body reaches a speed of approximately 90 miles an hour. Because of this speed, most people die upon impact. Survivors might typically die from exposure in the cold water, internal injuries like ruptured organs, or drowning in the rough current.

Eric Steel's documentary The Bridge is essentially a year (2004, to be exact) in the life of the monument, which is disturbingly the most "popular" suicide site in the world. In that year, Steel and his crew reportedly captured, simply by monitoring the bridge with a number of cameras, 23 of the 24 known suicides from the bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is no stranger to suicide. While there are no exact figures, even conservative estimates predict that the death toll reaches into the thousands since the bridge was opened in 1937.

What would inspire me to seek out a movie like The Bridge? Reading this incredibly sad but highly recommended 2003 New Yorker article about the bridge and its status as not only a magnet to tourists, but to those who long to see nothing more of this world. The stories of mental illness told in The Bridge are handled objectively, while the movie itself is a series of beautiful and poetic images (some of them just happen to be people leaping to their demise).

The movie collects footage of jumpers along with revealing interviews with family members, survivors and bystanders affected by what they've witnessed. Your reaction to these scenes, along with your opinion of the morality of suicide, may vary. While I felt The Bridge delicately avoided crossing the line into exploitation, other viewers may be appalled that in most cases, no one steps in to help these people as they figuratively and literally teeter on the edge of existence on this bridge. Amazingly, the scene in the movie that affected me the most was not one of the suicides, but a moment when a hobbyist photographer visiting the bridge physically pulls a jumper off of the ledge as if she were a tiger cub, saving her life.

The strangest thing about watching The Bridge is how you catch yourself scanning over the footage of crowds trying to figure out who might be the next to jump. When presented with gorgeous long shots of the bridge, the surrounding trees and a glowing sunset, you might find your eyes constantly darting to the bottom of your screen, waiting to catch an ominous splash in the water beneath.

It's a strange thing to be moved by a film... and yet not be able to feel like I can recommend it to people. What would they think? "You guys should rent this movie about people leaping to their deaths." "It will make your heart ache almost the entire time. You'll love it." "Jim, you're a big fan of actual suicide, right? Do I have a movie for you!"

But, if you're open to it and can see something like this with a sympathetic ear, it really is a haunting and well made documentary about the despair of mental illness and suicide.

For more on The Bridge:
- More information at IMDB
- A wide range of opinion between reviews at Metacritic
- Buy The Bridge at Amazon. If you're into that sort of thing.

Official movie trailer:


sh said...

Just reading your review left me with mixed emotions.

I suppose the decision to watch this film is a much younger, second-cousin to the decision to jump from a bridge.

Dylan Gaughan said...

Interesting point.

And, yeah, I think you're a little bit right. This is not for the faint of heart or the easily disturbed.