I approached this documentary with some hesitation. After all, who would willingly settle, with any enthusiasm, into a screening of a film about suicide? The few reviews I had read about the film were positive, so I watched it, hoping to learn something new.
The film is beautiful. That is to say, the footage and photography are beautiful. The camera crew kept a vigil at the site of California’s Golden Gate Bridge for an entire year, so the comings and goings of the seasons – such as they are in northern California – are completely documented here. The setting of the span as it crosses the San Francisco bay into Marin is idyllic, and the filmmaker, Eric Steel, has captured the natural surroundings of the area lovingly.
I can’t imagine the anguished mental process of a conscientious cameraman deciding whether or not to take the job of filming this project. On the plus side, there is the natural beauty of the workspace, the opportunity to capture those surroundings on film, a relaxed outdoor atmosphere. Negatively, there would be cold and wet days, and most often the job would involve working alone. But what of the objective goal, the aim to capture people leaping to death from the Golden Gate Bridge? This would throw me into a moral quandry. Would there be a telephone network in place to alert the bridge security? Do I stop filming to attempt to stop this person from jumping? When I believe that the person can’t be stopped, do I continue filming? What constructive purpose (other than that of being a voyeur) does this footage ultimately serve?
I won’t say that these questions were all necessarily answered to my complete satisfaction in the film. The Bridge, however, is not a sensationalistic work. While the focus is on the jumpers, and the footage of them attempting and, in some cases, accomplishing their premeditated goal is included, the bulk of the film is an eloquent and thoughtful meditation on suicide by those left behind. Steel sought out the family members and friends of the subjects, and recorded their emotional ruminations on troubled lives, and on their loss. Some express guilt and responsibility, and others seem to view suicide as a logical, though unfortunate, conclusion to their friend’s life.