5-Word 365 #063 – The Bridge

So this is episode five of Documentary Saturday. This week, it’s a film from 2006 that I won’t blame you for not wanting to watch.

The Bridge

I won’t be funny here.

Over the twelve months of 2004, a documentary crew set up their cameras looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge, to capture the last moments of the people who chose to end their lives by jumping into the bay*. The same crew then interviewed the friends and family these people left behind, in order to find out why.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this film. More than any other (except perhaps that one from Serbia), I think this might be the film that will haunt me in the years to come. During the year that Eric Steel and his crew spent filming the bridge, 24 people jumped to their deaths. Of those 24, 23 were caught on the tapes. Those 23 suicides are shown in this 90 minute film. Let me say that again: if you watch this, you will see twenty-three real people committing real suicide. To call this a harrowing experience doesn’t seem quite enough.

In contrast to most of the popular docs being made in the post-Roger and Me era, Steel himself is completely absent from the film. There is no corny animation or any jaunty music stings to try and lighten the tone either. This is an unflinching look at what happens when someone just can’t take it anymore. The interview subjects run the gamut from acceptance, to disbelief, to anger, to guilt but I wonder how many would have agreed to take part had they known beforehand that Steel had filmed their loved ones’ deaths (none of them were told about that footage until later). Some of these people you might choose to vilify for knowing about their loved one’s intentions ahead of time but not stopping it. One woman in particular, Caroline Pressley, when her friend Gene called her to tell her he was going to jump off the bridge, asked him to write her name and phone number and put it in a plastic bag in his pocket so that she would be informed. Should she have notified the authorities herself? Tried harder to talk him out of it? I don’t know. Her friend had been seriously affected by the death of his mother (who Caroline grew up with) among other problems. The point is, the film doesn’t judge these people and I don’t think I should either – with the exception of the woman whose friend admitted he was feeling suicidal and asked if he could come over to her house. She said no because she wanted to be by herself, and never saw him again. Her, I judge.

This shot isn't from the movie, but I just had to put it in here. From skyimagelab.com

Despite the difficult subject matter, this film looks beautiful. As the title character, the Golden Gate has never looked more grand and imposing. It’s almost mythical the way the clouds come roiling off the bay and shroud the entire structure. One shot near the end shows the bridge in a clear moment, with a full rainbow under the span. You can see why people are drawn to this thing, and not just so they can jump off it.

The end credits show that The Bridge was inspired by an article called “Jumpers” that featured in the New Yorker back in 2003. Even if you can’t or won’t watch the film, the article is well worth reading, and available here.

*Apparently, they would contact the bridge’s Highway Patrol contingent if they spotted someone acting iffy. The only suicides caught on tape were ones where the person could not be reached in time, or went over the side before the call could be made. Eric Steel reports they were able to save six people this way.

5 comments

  1. Bubbawheat · March 4, 2012

    I heard about this film a few weeks ago, and I find the concept quite original, if rather morbid. I don’t think I would seek it out as a movie for me to watch, but I think it’s good that it exists. Kind of reminds me of a Euthanasia Roller Coaster someone designed that I just read about today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_Coaster

    • Ryan McNeely · March 5, 2012

      That actually looks like a pretty decent way to go out!

  2. Emie Faun · March 4, 2012

    I have never heard about this film until now…and I’m not sure how I feel about watching it. I’ve seen a play revolving around this kind of thing before called Beachy Head (the place in England where people go to kill themselves), and was worried the whole way through that they were going to show us a genuine photo of someone committing suicide…luckily they didn’t.

    I’m not sure if I want to watch this film or not…but it would be an interesting film to talk about…

    • Ryan McNeely · March 5, 2012

      Yeah, I wonder if the film itself has saved any lives. If watching it actually convinced someone not to go ahead and jump.

  3. Pingback: Day 50 – The Bridge « Dancing With Jellyfish

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