Cameras trained on the Golden Gate Bridge capture suicides in the last moments of their lives

The Bridge

on October 27, 2006 by Francesca Dinglasan
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The Golden Gate Bridge and its notorious status as the world's most popular suicide destination have been the topic of several forms of discourse over the past several years, ranging from Jenni Olsen's 2005 experimental Sundance selection The Joy of Life to the seven-part Lethal Beauty series in which San Francisco Chronicle reporters explore all sides of a long-standing debate on the erection of a protective barrier at the monument. The latest look at the deadly phenomenon is first-time filmmaker Eric Steel's The Bridge, which, if not the most controversial of the recent examinations of the Golden Gate, is arguably the most visceral.

Opening credits unfurl against a travelogue-style montage of typical scenes on the Golden Gate, with tourists snapping photos of San Francisco's skyline or marveling at the engineering feat that are the bridge's suspension towers. The quiet normalcy of this sequence ends abruptly when a man dressed in sweats climbs over the railing and steps off the edge, unaware that a camera has captured the last moments of his life, trailing his 225-foot plunge into the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay. In that hyper-surreal moment, the first thought that comes to mind is “this is only a movie,” whose literal truth is irrelevant, considering viewers have witnessed the real-world intentional death of another person.

Steel, armed with the proper permits, filmed the bridge everyday in 2004 using two cameras -- one stationary and wide-angled, the other crew-manned and fitted with an extreme long lens. Shots of people strolling along the bridge's pedestrian walkway, including a few more who chose to jump, are interspersed with interviews of the victims' family and friends as well as individuals who came into contact with the jumpers -- strangers who talked to or saw, and in one case prevented, the suicides at the critical moment.

The emotional and, in many instances, articulate reflections on the deceased, combined with ruminations on the mindsets of their loved ones in selecting a very public method and place of death, are surprisingly frank. Sadness is naturally conveyed, but so are expressions of anger and even relief that their son, sister or friend is no longer suffering.

Despite its best intentions, however, The Bridge is ultimately only able to raise questions, failing to provide an avenue for a deeper exploration of the taboo subject. Inspired by Tad Friend's New Yorker article “Jumpers,” Steel is clearly informed by the more historical and psychological dimensions of the Golden Gate Bridge as a suicide magnet. Those perspectives -- along with Steel's own challenges, both logistically and morally -- in identifying potential jumpers and notifying the Bridge Police in time, as described in production notes, would have provided a much more solid and multifaceted framework for the film to undertake its examination. Instead, The Bridge is a beautifully shot but myopic debut effort, rendering Steel's work noble, haunting and incomplete. Distributor: IFC
Director/Producer: Eric Steel
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R for disturbing content involving suicide and some language
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: October 27

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