The Bridge

Repost from old blog, 5/21/2008
P.S. – As of 2/19/2010 the full movie is on Hulu.Saw the documentary “The Bridge” a few days ago and can’t get it out of my head. It was inspired by an article in the New Yorker about the Golden Gate Bridge’s status as the world’s number one suicide destination, and the ongoing fight to build a barrier around its perimeter that would prevent people from jumping off.

The filmmakers spent a year filming the Golden Gate Bridge during all daylight hours. The movie shows people killing themselves. For the most part, it’s structured around the stories of those people, told by friends and family, and it finds compelling similarities among their stories. It observes the determination that some of these people had to kill themselves, and how those who were close to them sometimes just had to let them go and do it. It’s beautifully photographed and quite moving at times.

I had problems with it, however. For instance, at no time during the film does it tell you how or why it was made. The back story of the filmmakers documenting the bridge for a year is left out completely. The whole time I was left to wonder how I was watching what I was watching.

I think the film attempts to sidestep the moral question of whether it’s okay to watch people kill themselves. I’m not opposed to that approach. But removing the footage of any context just made me wonder about it more.

There’s an interesting segment midway that points to a different direction the film could have taken. A man is taking photographs on the bridge when he spots a girl going over the railing and standing on the ledge, preparing to jump. At first he continues to take shots of her poised at the edge [I posted one of those shots above]. “I guess I was just waiting for her to jump,” he says. Then he comes to his senses. We watch from the filmmakers’ perspective as he reaches over the ledge and grabs her jacket. It even takes him some time before he lets go of his camera, thereby freeing both of his hands to reach under her arms and lift her back over the railing.

From a short on the DVD extras I learned that the filmmakers had certain authorities on speed dial, and would call as soon as they saw somebody who was ready to jump. But it seems reasonable to think that at some point during the filming of this documentary the camera persons, having tracked a a potential jumper pacing back and forth for some time, suddenly saw that person go over the railing and prepare to jump, and decided to reach for their camera instead of for their cellphone.

That’s an assumption, I know, but the film would have been a lot less troubling if it had dealt with those questions. These are, after all, suicides done in broad daylight in a very famous location. Chances are the jumpers want us to look. But that line between watching and doing something to stop it is so volatile.