The Bridge

[Note: The Bridge may pack a powerful trauma trigger for the susceptible.]

This documentary paints a vivid, poetically mournful image of a very specific form of suicide. The Bridge uses extensive footage of the Golden Gate Bridge, its compelling expanse thronged with visitors and travelers… and, occasionally, suicide jumpers. Seemingly at random, it focuses on giggling groups of children, tourists snapping photos, and people who clamber over the side and jump.

Interspliced with this jarring footage are interviews with survivors, family, friends, and witnesses. The effect of the whole is haunting, pensive, almost elegiac, and at once distant and harrowingly intimate. It’s also obscene: seeing a person climb over the railing is startling, and seeing these suicidal acts committed to film is downright surreal.

The film maintains an unflinching distance*, but the viewer is unlikely to do the same. Even with the mediating effect of film, it’s gutwrenching, horrific. More unsettling still, the voyeuristic style — observing tourists and commuters as they walk along the bridge — pokes at the dark underside of your brain, spurring morbid speculation each time someone lingers too long by the railing.

The Bridge also plays some interesting meta-textual tricks. One interviewee, a photographer who witnessed and closely photographed a stranger in the act of climbing onto the bridge’s ledge, discusses the distance imposed by the camera. The film itself leads us to romanticize the act of jumping, then abruptly reframes it as a gesture of futility, mirroring an interviewee’s speculation about her friend’s emotional landscape as he contemplated and then committed suicide.

*Despite the apparent aesthetic and ethical distance of the final film, the filmmakers actually did try to intercede, training themselves in suicide prevention and calling in reports to the bridge patrol; apparently they prevented six suicides in their months of filming.

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