Suicide Club

Ethically questionable documentary spends a year on the Golden Gate

  But the banal remembered particulars are less upsetting—and less revealing, in a suggestive way—than the affectless glimpses of the soon-to-be-departed through Steel's long-range lenses. At first glance, they're indistinguishable from the rest of the foot traffic, right up to the moment they bypass some circuit-breaker of survival instinct that keeps the rest of us on the other side of the rail. The decision to jump severs some lifeline of empathy to the living: they are unknowable, except to another jumper. Equally disturbing, in this context, are the shots of unidentified walkers who pause to look over the side, then pause just a second longer—plainly hearing, if only for an instant, the siren song of the undertow.

In these moments, The Bridge's creepy method gets at a fundamental truth of contemporary life: that a century of watching has created a nation of passive voyeurs, invisible to one another except when we show up in viewfinders. In one of the film's most telling moments, a photographer takes pictures of a would-be suicide, then wrestles her back to the bridge; it's at the moment he sets down his own camera, settling his ethical quandary, that he shows up on Steel's. (Once again, life imitates Brian De Palma.) The camera makes a poor substitute for human connection. Kevin Hines, one of the few jumpers to survive the pulverizing landing—water isn't soft when smacked at 75 mph—recalls standing on the bridge in tears debating whether to kill himself; the clincher was a German tourist who blithely asked him to take her picture. Yet another jumper left photographs of his own view from the bridge, in one last attempt to communicate his life-negating misery: The mundane images show only what he was seeing, not what he saw.

So why the Golden Gate Bridge? Friend's article—which is infinitely richer in historical and psychological detail, and doesn't come equipped with a sickly score that's like a funeral director's practiced sympathy—speculates that it's a combination of "fatal grandeur" and its controversial low railing. In the movie, though, the bridge's towers loom over all angles of the city. To a despondent person who already feels like a loser, the aspiration and achievement they represent could become an omnipresent rebuke—what the friend of one jumper means, perhaps, in describing the bridge's "false romantic promise."

To many, though, that promise isn't false—even to the jumpers themselves. "That's something else I'm pissed off at him about," a jumper's roommate says. "It's such a great bridge." He laments that he'll never see the Golden Gate Bridge again without thinking of death. That's something he'll have in common with anyone who sees The Bridge.

THE BRIDGE WAS PRODUCED AND CTED BY ERIC STEEL. AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE.

 
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