Heartbreak ‘Bridge’

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Unflinching documentary takes hard look at Golden Gate Bridge jumpers

How does one respond to a tough little documentary like “The Bridge,” which contains raw footage of real-life jumpers plunging to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge? Unless you assign uncommonly low value to human life, it is impossible not to be moved and appalled by such images. For the victims, the leap from the bridge represents a last resort, the ultimate victory of despair over hope. For witnesses, and those the jumpers leave behind, these are haunting tragedies that might have been prevented, if only someone had seen the clues — if any were given — in time.

“The Bridge” heeds the voices of those survivors, the grieving parents and confused friends who struggle to understand, and it offers no simple answers. How could it? Yet the film hints at some of the reasons why the Golden Gate is the world’s most popular suicide destination. There is a perceived elegance to the fall from such a breathtaking landmark, a poetic resonance that masks the crushing reality of what happens when the human body strikes the unyielding wall of water below. And the bridge, having earned a well-publicized reputation as a quick and effective gateway to death, exerts a perverse hold on those who would join the ever-increasing ranks of the jumpers.

More than anything, though, there is the matter of access, which the Golden Gate, with its pedestrian walkways and easily vaulted railings, famously provides. Filmed over the entire 2004 calendar year, “The Bridge” captures more than 20 jumpers on film, some who casually linger on the edge before taking the plunge, others who make a quick, unexpected leap. (The film crew, shooting from a vantage point well off the bridge but trained to spot the telltale signs of those preparing to die, were able to save a few by alerting the authorities.) It is a brutally discouraging spectacle, presented without a hint of sensationalism, and perhaps it is the film’s eerie placidity that makes the sudden fatalities, so devoid of drama, all the more disquieting.

And yet there is something missing. Director Eric Steel’s documentary hints at ways the bridge’s suicide epidemic might be controlled, but never really takes a stand. Would higher barricades do the trick? Probably so, but “The Bridge” alludes to the idea only in passing. Interviews with suicide-prevention activists and the police who salvage mangled bodies from the Golden Gate’s roiling waters might have shed meaningful light on the debate, but there’s none of that here. Instead, “The Bridge” merely presents a collage of deadly images in unflinching fashion. The result is undeniably haunting, but its lack of critical perspective is troubling.

Movie review

The Bridge ???

Documentary

Directed by Eric Steel, Raymond Wood and Randall Blizzard

Rated R

Running time 93 minutes

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