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The Bridge racked up plenty of dubiously merited controversy upon its release. The key word here is 'merited,' whether dubious or not. This is a highly disturbing, intensely moving documentary about suicide and mental illness. In turns probing and brutally honest, the film is also excruciating and can be seen as exploitative. Once watched, it will haunt you, hopefully for the better. Director Eric Steel earns credit for truthfulness and bravery, and now Kino Lorber and Alive Mind bring you this DVD release, even the mere cover of which you'll have difficulty looking at after you've watched.
Inspired by a The New Yorker article titled "Jumpers," Steel and his crew set about documenting suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge. They filmed at some remove all day every day of 2004, helping save several lives of potential suicides, while also capturing on film most of the 24 suicides from the bridge that year. This was apparently a fairly average year, as according to the movie the bridge attracts more suicides than any other location in the world. In addition to showing viewers the suicides, Steel interviews families and friends of the suicides, witnesses, and even those who have attempted or wanted to attempt the jump. Notably missing among the interviewees (and it's a huge, howling hole) are those who were successful in their missions.
So let's dispense with the bad right off the bat. This is an extremely disturbing movie, with the central conceit being the dubious chance to see people jump to their deaths from the bridge. Being an exactingly specific art-house shockumentary cum pseudo-snuff-film is not at all the point of The Bridge. But there it is. Many times in clear, adequate medium shots, you see folks glance furtively around before climbing the ledge and letting go. Often the camera follows them down to the water. What's most disturbing about this, aside from the emotional toll it must have taken on Steel and his crew, is the cinematic puffing that unfortunately happens, and I want to be up front about it. Elegiac, uplifting music often plays. And throughout, one person's story is dragged out. What we hear from his friends and family sheds light into this dark corner, but this man's desire to end his pain is still more of a mystery than the others. What gives him pole position, and makes his death the climactic act of the movie is his leap. Steel feels this jump is worthy enough to tease and entice us throughout the film, with repeated shots of him pacing edgily back and forth on the bridge. Will he, or won't he? We'll just have to keep watching. When he, and the movie, reach their respective finales, it's in show-stopping fashion, as the leather-clad man climbs the rail, stands straight and still on a pillar, back facing the water, stretches out his arms and gracefully falls backwards, a messianic sacrifice to our need to see and understand. The music swells. Curtain.
While I'm sure there are arguments to be made for Steel's choice in constructing his documentary with build-up to a rousing climax, it seems to me like a tasteless choice. The bulk of the movie, however, is simply heartbreaking, within the standard documentary format. Steel elicits so much from the survivors interviewed, The Bridge in large part functions as a graceful attempt to understand mental illness, placing no blame on either the victims or their families and friends. Particularly revealing is a central interview with an athletic, well-to-do young man who survived his leap, as well as the resigned, gentle wisdom coming from a family friend of the ultimate jumper. In the end The Bridge is moving and devastating.
One hopes viewers will approach Steel's controversial documentary for the right reasons. It's certainly not pedantic, and just scratches the surface of the causes of suicide. Survivors often seem baffled, though we become privy to the holes left in their lives. Steel gets to the point that suicide is a symptom of mental illness, and that its effects permanently injure survivors. As a horrifying peek behind the curtain, one wishes there didn't have to be a visual engine driving the movie, especially one used to attract and sustain interest in the subject. As something of a neutral look at the subject, (those cameras pointed at the bridge are at a significant remove, emblematic of the movie's approach) one hopes those suffering from mental illness or depression are moved to seek help after viewing, even though the grand exit that caps the film might be viewed as blackly inspirational. Cautiously Recommended.
National Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
The Bridge is presented in a 1.78:1 ratio, enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Every so often a long shot of the bridge is shown, sort of scenic, but lower-resolution than the rest of the movie. And of course just as you're wondering why Steel is showing you this image, a splash in the water indicates a person has just died. Other footage of people on the bridge is also a little grainy, since the footage is long-distance telescopic in nature. The interview segments are crisp and clean, and there aren't any severe compression problems.
Dolby Digital Stereo Audio is perfectly adequate. Documentaries don't really beg for flashy audio anyway. Interviewees are understandable and the music isn't mixed too loud.
A 20-minute Making-Of Documentary features the thoughts of Steel and his crew on watching people kill themselves; it's a sobering but helpful addition to the movie. A Trailer is also included.
One hopes viewers will approach Steel's controversial documentary for the right reasons. It's certainly not pedantic, and just scratches the surface of the causes of suicide. As a horrifying peek behind the curtain, one wishes there didn't have to be a visual engine driving the movie, especially one used to attract and sustain interest in the subject. Nonetheless, Steel's frank look at a uniquely human phenomenon, tragic though it may be, is cautiously Recommended.