This year SICK! Festival has pushed boundaries by opening up debates and airing work on the theme of suicide. One of pieces shown was a documentary film by Eric Steel, which enters dark spiritual territory focusing on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, symbol of the West and of freedom and site for the highest number of suicides of any single place in the world. Review by Colin Hambrook
Steel and his crew spent the whole of 2004 documenting 23 suicides and a great many unrealised attempts for The Bridge. In addition, the director captured a series of honest, personal, often heart-wrenching interviews with the families and friends of the departed, as well as with several of the attempters themselves.
The Bridge is not a good film. In many ways it is a dishonourable film. Andrew Pulver in The Guardian went as far as to call it possibly the most morally loathsome film ever made.
Apparently Steel got permission to film because he said he was wanting to celebrate the beauty of the Golden Gate bridge; something it does do, in terrible and horrific juxtaposition to the voyeurism it asks you to partake in as the camera witnesses people jumping from the bridge, following their journey down to the water 245 feet below.
The Bridge exemplifies just how impossible it is to pigeon-hole those who commit suicide. Yes, many if not most of the families interviewed revealed stories of loved ones with a history of mental health issues. But they range across class and creed coming from all backgrounds.
Gene Sprague is a case in point. His story is explored in detail throughout the film showing the young man as a charismatic individual with an extensive social life; someone who was clearly greatly loved.
The interviews throw into focus a depth of caring; extensive time, energy and effort gone into attempting to ensure his safety. But at the end of the day his friend Caroline Pressley concludes that for him suicide was sadly, a seemingly inevitable outcome, particularly following the death from cancer of his mother. “Why he chose the bridge? I don't know… Maybe he just wanted to fly one time,” she says with poetic simplicity.
There is a 2 per cent survival rate and one of those interviewed is a young man who talks about a tourist who asked him to take their picture just as he was about to jump. Nothing was said to dissuade him, but a seal in the water finds him and swims around his body to keep him afloat in time for him to be picked up by a rescue team.
Currently mental health is portrayed as the biggest fraud by the tabloid press. Perhaps because we understand the human mind least of all aspects of being human, it is easy to throw our hands up at the insanity of the society we’ve created for ourselves.
The Bridge throws into spotlight just how callous the world can be. Once seen, it can never be forgotten.