Film Reviews

The Bridge Eric Steel

Rating - 8/10

Director Eric Steel trained two cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004, in the process capturing some of the multiple suicides that took place at this popular location. In his mostly unsentimental and fascinating 2006 documentary The Bridge, Steel not only shows footage of these falls, but also lengthy interviews with friends and family of the deceased. The potential morbidity of this unique documentary is to some extent unavoidable, but The Bridge avoids crossing the line into exploitation by, except for a soundtrack of low bass tones and a late game descent into insipid acoustic ballad, avoiding melodrama.

Most of the documentary consists of simple, honest reflections of those left behind, uncomfortable but not invasive or distasteful. It is a plain demonstration of multiple phases and reactions that are all relatable. Despair, lament, resignation, and even relief are on display. What lingers is a universal inability to completely grasp where the respective jumpers were, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually to commit to such an ultimate decision, a feeling of loneliness beyond communication and expression. Beyond personal tragedy, it touches on issues general to life, that being the inability to completely know another or the puzzle of mortality. One notably different subject is a rare survivor, who delivers as lucid and unspectacular an account of a struggle with mental illness as I have ever seen in a movie.

The Golden Gate Bridge itself provides a remarkable visual anchor to the film, an overwhelming physical object at overwhelming heights that regularly attracts those who find life overwhelming. The massive scale of the bridge and the drop beneath it is an apt illustration of the enormity of life and the terrifying step beyond to propel one's self away from it. The most superficially disturbing aspect of the film, the drops, provide indelible illustrations of the physical reality here. The acceleration of a body falling through such height that cameras cannot adequately track them, ultimately losing them and carrying forward beyond the point of impact. Stationary shots from a distance are a harrowing image of the anonymity and smallness of human life, seen as barely glimpsed dots before a surprising and massive splash.

Ethical questions are sure to occur. I am unfamiliar with the extent of the crew's degree of active involvement, though the internet seems to think they were a part of a few successful interventions. The question arises if there is any responsibility to do so. Is it anymore than that of several people present at each suicide? One subject is a woman who realizes that, driving across the bridge, she saw a man directly before his leap. Disturbed, she questions a recovery worker about the frequency of such events, which turns out to be "all the time." Literally, the Golden Gate Bridge averages a few each month. If camera crews and surrounding people fail to intervene, what about putting up fences? Then again, suicide is always going to be with us and it is impossible to construct a functional world with obstacles to every opportunity. All we have is will and sense. The Bridge is a thought provoking and honorable exploration of an intimidating and elemental subject that refuses to resort to abstraction, simplification, or spectacle. It simply watches, asks questions it does not pretend to answer, and listens. For that it is indispensable.