The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed monuments in the world. Built in 1937, it’s man’s gigantic feat against the harsh elements of the Bay. Two things come to my mind when I think about the Golden Gate: San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, and the beloved sitcom “Full House.” Two very happy thoughts. Some people look at the bridge and see nothing happy; merely a way out.
This poignant 2006 documentary follows the life and death of some of the 24 souls that decided to end it all on the bridge over the course of one year (2004). Filmmaker Eric Steel naturally released this documentary to much controversy, not only because of the disturbing images, but also because he revealed that he had tricked the Golden Gate bridge committee into allowing him to film the bridge by saying he wanted to “capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge.” During the months of filming on the bridge, they had captured 23 of the 24 suicides that took place, hauntingly intertwined with interviews from the family members of the deceased.
But why The Bridge? Maybe they thought, “Hey, if I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go in style.” The Golden Gate bridge seems perfect for those with a flair for the dramatic. But as we learn about these people, it’s really just sad. No big surprises in the types of people featured. Mentally ill, depressed, penniless, self-deprecating and misguided souls. They all left behind mothers, fathers, children, cousins, roomates, and friends who had a whole world of hurt and questions to deal with. Many of them saw it coming already. They had heard it all, the never-ending loop of “I’m just going to end it all.” But like any optimistic human being, they never truly saw it coming. You could feel the helplessness they felt through the screen and the whys & the hows that they’ll never quite understand.
Steel also tracked down bystanders affected by the suicides, which presented an interesting angle to the whole story. He interviewed a family on holiday taking pictures on the bridge near a jumper, and kite surfers in the bay who saw a body plunge near them. I can’t even imagine what that’s like. I personally need a moment to recover from seeing a minor fender bender on the road, so I just can’t wrap my head around that. We see footage of interrupted suicide attempts, where total strangers risk their own safety in order to pull the would-be jumper from the ledge. He also features a first-hand account of the jump from a rare survivor of the 4-second fall. Like many suicide committers, he realized as soon as he let go of the ledge that he wanted to live. He prevented death by falling into the water feet first, but still fractured some of his spine. He recounted the painful cracking of tiny bone fragments that lodged themselves into his internal organs. That’s right, kids. Gross.
I wish more movies affected me the way this did. I love indie documentaries about the mundane and the unpopular, but they often try too hard and don’t always keep my interest. This one, I just couldn’t turn away from. When it finished, I was simply sad. That’s it. Even though they couldn’t have made a film about a more depressing topic, I always love feeling the way I did after it, for lack of a better term, ended.