Media Monday: “Off the Deep End” (Film Review?)

by cynthiarendon

Let’s make Mondays “Media Mondays” from now on, shall we? Soooo music ‘and’ movies will be fair game. 🙂

Sometimes I get into a mood where I want to watch something devastatingly moving. Not really looking to have a good cry or anything, but the flood of superhero flicks, comic book movies, and rom coms can only make you think so much. This is where The Bridge comes in. This is not so much of a movie review as it is, uh, my thoughts on the film (which I guess does make it a review). Either way, I recommend it if you’re looking to branch out and get uncomfortable.

It’s surely a wonder of the modern Western world. Its red-orange color is even distinguishable in the thickest San Francisco fog. It is arguably the most photographed bridge in the world, and director Eric Steel (Shaft, Angela’s Ashes) decided to make it the subject of his 2006 documentary, The Bridge.

The opening few minutes of the film follow people walking across the bridge going about their morning. Some are are running, tourists pose for photos, and then there are the people who just choose to stand still and look out to Alcatraz. It isn’t clear what I, as a viewer, should be looking for.

Then an older gentleman easily climbs over the edge, steps on the ledge, and without any hesitation, jumps. I follow his four second jump until he hits the probably very cold, murky blue water beneath.

“Uh, did I really just see that?” And the answer is yep. I just became a witness to this man’s last few seconds of life. With all of its grandiose beauty, I seemed to have forgotten that the famous Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular site in the world for people to commit suicide.

Eric Steel and his crew camped out in close proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge for all of 2004, and documented most of the 24 people who decided to end their lives in the most stunning and  bewildering way. I say stunning because who wouldn’t be stunned by watching a person jump from the freakin’ Golden Gate Bridge. And I say bewildering because, in reality, I don’t know these people and why they decided to end their lives in this particular way.

Am I watching a snuff film here? There is no question that it will get flack for being a “snuff” film — but I would say that maybe the real tragedy is how suicide is often hidden away. This film brings it out in the open.

In between the footage of people jumping, Steel himself interviews the family and friends of the “jumpers”, as the films calls them, so as to possibly give viewers an opportunity to personalize the faces that have been seen from about a thousand feet way. I followed right along as family members speak lovingly about their deceased brother, son, daughter, etc. I even reached a point where the faces of the jumpers were no longer faraway blurred faces, but individuals I could sympathize with and sometimes even relate to.

But as I got to know the “jumper” in a comfortable atmosphere, I was also constantly reminded that this person is a “jumper” for a reason. The footage of the person we were just getting to know fall to his or her death appears, and their story abruptly ends.

Maybe I am watching a snuff film?

image via google images

I was often treated to almost impossible-looking, breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, which at times distracted me from what the bridge can connote — suicide. It’s still difficult to discern what Steel tries to achieve through this film, however. Is it merely disturbance or a better understanding of this “hidden disease” called suicide?

So why did these “jumpers” jump with all of these loving people in their lives? That is the question. And why jump in the most, some will say, exhibitionist manner?

The most prominent example is Gene, a depressed, leather-clad rocker dude who constantly told everyone around him, “Just kill me.” The Bridge periodically returns to footage of Gene’s long mane blowing in the wind just before his death. He gazes out to the Pacific Ocean, possibly contemplating life. Even with the faraway shot, he isn’t hard to miss. It’s a sunny day and the bright red bridge perfectly contrasts with his black clothing, and his long, dark hair flows in the wind.

Steel and his crew repeatedly catch these postcard-perfect moments on camera, and, at times, like I previously said, enabled me to forget that I would soon be watching someone plummet to their death. I was surprised after each jump, though. Every. Single. One.

I saw the Golden Gate Bridge from every possible angle —from the bottom where the criss-cross details of the deck can be seen, and even from miles away on a soccer field, where the clouds, ever so slightly, roll atop its outermost ends. It emerges from the fog. Raindrops cascade along its tall, bright towers. Art students sit and sketch the bridge from afar. All in all, the images are priceless. I get lost, I see a splash, and hear the sound of something hitting the water. “Oh, right. I forgot.” There goes another of the 24 jumpers. Among this architectural wonder, where it looks almost heavenly with the clouds moving right above it, people plummet to their death, and I saw it time and time again.

So as to not deter all those who are faint of heart, Steel also catches “almost- jumpers”, those who are suicidal and about to jump (or jump) and either get rescued by a bystander or miraculously live after jumping into the watery abyss. Whether the “almost-jumpers” wanted to be saved or helped, however, is another question. Were these saviors just really torturers in disguise? The answer may never be clear, but, as Steel definitely shows, all of these people who jumped were cared for and loved.

Finally (this is long, I know), what was I really watching when I saw The Bridge? A snuff film? A poignant, moving work about the taboo subject of suicide? The film doesn’t explicitly say. Through the interviews, I got a slightly better understanding of the jumpers’ dire mental situations, but that ultimate why — why on this scenic, iconic bridge – may never be answered. Perhaps, before leaving this earth for good, these “jumpers” wanted to fly.