As Tad Friend documented in the New Yorker article "Jumpers," which became the basis for the haunting new documentary The Bridge, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge has become a mecca of sorts for the terminally hopeless and suicidal. More than two dozen deaths occurred at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004 alone, and Eric Steel's cameras filmed most of them. Steel's crew intervened to save a number of attempted suicides, then decided to explore the complicated, troubled histories of some of the jumpers for a bleak, harrowing study of depression and self-negation. Steel also chronicles a troubled manic-depressive who survived his plunge from the bridge, and a photographer who rescued a potential suicide before she could make that fatal leap.
Plummeting off a national landmark in full view of tourists and rubberneckers appeals to the innate sense of drama in depressed narcissists; it isn't an inconspicuous way to die. An excellent example is Gene, a chronically depressed goth who telegraphed his suicide for years to anyone who would listen. The Bridge returns over and over to hypnotic footage of Gene's long hair blowing in the wind just before his death. One of The Bridge's bleakest ironies is that Gene's suicide and prominent role in the film give him the spotlight in death that eluded him in life.
A strange combination of art and snuff film, The Bridge aspires to humanize the people who kill themselves at the Golden Gate Bridge, but ends up mostly reducing its subjects to their flamboyant and very public deaths. For all its sensitivity and noble intentions, there's something irredeemably disquieting about The Bridge; after 9/11, viewers can be forgiven for never wanting to see another soul take a fatal plummet. The Bridge packs a visceral emotional wallop. How could it not? But along with plenty of difficult questions, Steel's film leaves a sour, disturbing aftertaste.