San Francisco's world famous Golden Gate Bridge looks idyllic in these shots as the clouds roll by and people, both cityfolk and tourists, make their way across in cars and on foot. But for some of those walking across, the bridge represents a chance to relieve themselves of the problems that have been weighing them down to the point that they cannot face life any more. As we see when one man standing at the railing purposefully climbs over and allows himself to fall. In 2004, there were twenty-four suicides from the bridge and we have just seen one of them, captured on film.
Producer and director Eric Steel's heart may have been in the right place when he made The Bridge, but how ethical was it to film people killing themselves to illustrate his documentary about how the Golden Gate Bridge was the world's most popular suicide spot, as inspired by a New Yorker article on that very subject? He certainly faced a lot of criticism for it, and you can see the point as it was such an invasion of privacy, intruding on these victims' final moments and perhaps encouraging the more susceptible viewers to consider it themselves.
This is the trouble, as when depression hits and the sufferer begins to look for solutions to their problems, problems which seem insurmountable with each passing day, ending it all can certainly cross their minds. As it must have to those we see here, climbing over that railing, or simply toppling over - did Steel wish to put damaging thoughts into the minds of the vulnerable? Was he looking for a sensational angle to his film, or was he seeking to shock potential jumpers into stopping themselves taking drastic action by holding a mirror up to their behaviour?
In effect, the shots of the suicides take up a very small portion of the film. Mainly Steel shows picturesque views of the structure, which rather than romanticising it makes it seem more ominous with every sight of it, and interviews those who knew those who died, building up a picture of the deceased through their reminiscences. He doesn't cover all the people who died on the bridge in 2004, but concentrates on about six of them, with one, a chap called Gene, whose story is returned to throughout the running time until we finally see him kill himself. With all those left behind the emotion is of grief and loss, anger at the waste and for putting them through such trauma, and wondering what they could have done to prevent it. Gene, for example, had a message on his answering machine on the morning he died telling him he had been selected for the job he had been wishing for - had he heard the message? Had he missed it? We'll never know.
But it's not all bad news, as not everyone who jumps, or attempts to take that way out actually dies. One young man leapt off only to survive, he was badly injured, but he lived. In the story he tells there is personal tragedy on the path that led him to such despair, but also absurdity - the woman who asked him to take her picture while he stood at the railing distraught - and a miracle - the seal which kept him afloat as he waited to be rescued. Another scene shows us a photographer who saved a woman's life by literally pulling her up from the brink - but not before he had snapped her climbing over in the first place (he admits his own behaviour seems bizarre to him now, but it draws uncomfortable parallels with Steel's activities). So while you might have qualms about the presentation of the topic, at least the film makes it clear that no matter how suicide may seem the best option at some point, there's always an alternative. And there will always be someone who will miss you if you go. Music by Alex Heffes.