It was six years city that I visited San Francisco, a very special and beautiful city, and the location of some of the best films I have seen. With my family, we visited the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, and walked along the entirety of its 2.7km length. The road itself is 67 meters above sea level. As we crossed, I noticed posters advertising suicide help lines, which seemed more than a little morbid. I didn’t realise at the time that I was standing on the most popular suicide destination in the world.
The purpose of a documentary is to educate and to inform, especially on topics we know little about. Perhaps one of the least understood social phenomena is the act of suicide, and yet there are so few documentaries about it. Taking inspiration from a magazine article, director Eric Steel and his crew filmed the Golden Gate Bridge throughout the year of 2004, occasionally capturing individuals falling to their deaths. They weren’t callous; if they saw a person ready to jump, the Coast Guard would be called instantly and sometimes people were rescued.
For me, the first three minutes of the film are the most haunting. Without narration, we watch many people on the bridge filmed through a telephoto lens, including children and adults that peer over the edge in curiosity. Suddenly, one of them jumps, and your heart skips a beat. Having witnessed this now several times, watching somebody take their own life is not easy.
After the jump, witnesses, family members and friends are interviewed, and these interviews are interspersed with beautiful yet ominous images of the foreboding bridge itself. Some family members speak volumes about the jumper’s mental state, or the day that they chose to jump. Another speaks about how much he wants to ask his friend why he would choose to hurt him in this way. The witnesses have their own stories too. In an early case, it is a family with a small child and a baby who find a woman climbing over the railing, recalling how she was laughing before she threw herself off the edge. The filmed evidence is terrifying. Another filmed segment shows a photographer yanking a potential jumper back over the railings in order to save her. He explains the story while the footage runs. Only one survivor is interviewed, and he explains how, even after standing on the bridge for 40 minutes, the moment he decided that he wanted to live was the very second he let go.
All in all, it’s a chilling account of some very tragic tales, all with the same thing in common. But more than that, it gives second hand accounts of people who committed suicide, and goes partway towards explaining why they might have done it. Most people cannot fathom taking their own life, so to be able to empathise with some who is contemplating this action is incredibly important. The visceral footage is not tactless; each of the families who co-operated approve of the film, and I believe The Bridge goes some way towards educating people on this morbid topic.