The Bridge

The Bridge


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The elegance of the opening shots, with birds flying over the water, a kite surfer skimming the waves and the majesty of San Francisco’s most famous landmark emerging through the morning mist, lulls you into a false sense of security. When a middle-aged man pulls himself over the barrier on the Golden Gate, where pedestrians and tourists walk, and, without a moment’s hesitation, leaps into the abyss, the camera follows him down, like in the CGI enhanced World Trade Center. Before you have time to admire the stunt work, you realise this is a documentary and that was the real thing.

Director Eric Steel has made a wise decision to avoid the use of narrative voiceover, in favour of a well considered soundtrack, and to conduct the interviews with relatives, friends and witnesses of the suicides straight-to-camera, like Richard Avedon’s portraits, without the aid of spoken questions, or the sight of an interviewer. Such formality is adhered to throughout, creating a mood of respect with its simplicity, allowing the voices to convey feelings of loss, bafflement and occasional anger. “Gene had people in this world who loved him and he hurt them. He hurt me [by killing himself] and I didn’t think he would ever do that.”

Copy picture

In 2004, 29 people leapt from the bridge. Many of the younger ones had histories of mental disorder. “She thought our dogs were devils. Being a schizophrenic is like having a TV inside your head with 44 channels on all at the same time.” Others had idealized attitudes towards life and love and when it didn’t work out the way they wanted, or believed it should be, they couldn’t stand it. “He knew he was trapped [in his own body] although he had everything he needed to make him happy. [Jumping off the bridge] was the only way he could be free.”

The speakers are intelligent, articulate and thoughtful, not least Kevin, a 24-year-old, who actually survived the fall. He hit the water feet first. On the way back up to the surface, he felt something bump into his leg. “That would have been the ultimate irony – a shark is going to eat me!” It was a seal that stayed with him and kept him afloat until help came.

As well as the stories and regrets (“Was I a good enough friend?”) and incomprehension (“I don’t know why people kill themselves. It’s a small step to empathise”), there is the bridge itself and the eye of the camera, searching the figures walking across, staying with the lingerers, just in case. The older, fatter men have trouble clambering over the barrier; the younger ones don’t. One stands on the rail and gracefully falls backwards into empty air, like a trapeze artist.

At this moment, or even before this moment, there is a feeling of disquiet that the audience has become an unwitting voyeur to voluntary human sacrifice and a suspicion grows - so well expressed in Capote - that the director needs to witness the deaths because without them he has no film.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2007
Share this with others on...
The Bridge packshot
Documenting suicides from the Golden Gate bridge.
Amazon link

Director: Eric Steel

Year: 2006

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/US


London 2006

Search database: