Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Bridge d. Eric Steel, 2006

On top of having little direction - this isn't an educational piece, it isn't pensive, and it doesn't really entertain (more on that in, like, two seconds) - and becoming pretty boring after the first 30 minutes, The Bridge is, in part, truly reprehensible. Concerned with the people who attempt suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, the film isn't reprehensible because it shows these suicides in media res. Nor is it because the filmcrew actually waited for this footage, filming the bridge every day for a year. Jumping is what the film is about - as morbid as it is, that footage was necessary to make the film. The problem lies in the fact that Steel uses these deaths - one in particular - as mechanisms of suspense.

The film follows the stories of several different jumpers and their families; we see roughly 5-10 people jump throughout the film. One in particular, Gene, we see near the beginning of the film. We see friends and family interviewed; they talk about Gene - his life, what pushed him to jump, et cetera. We know Gene is going to jump. Steel forces us to wait. And wait. Gene paces the bridge, one end to another. Finally, in the last five minutes, Gene steps up onto the guard rail, turns his back toward the water, puts his arms out Christ-like, and gloriously falls to his death. The camera captures him perfectly, never - unlike every other jump we see - losing sight of him as he plunges. A flock of birds fly in front of the camera - perfectly placed for juxtaposition - as he falls; it ends with a cathartic splash. The fact that, aesthetically, Gene's fall is so superior to the others captured is the problem. There's no rhyme or reason for placing this last or building it up other than suspense - the interviews with Gene's friends aren't any more compelling than any others, his story isn't any more pathetic, he isn't paradigmatic in any way. Except aesthetically. To use a human life - an actual human life, not the life of a character - in a purely utilitarian manner is absolutely reprehensible.


Blogger FreeThinker said...

This is all very sad, but at least awareness is up on the touchy subject of suicide. I have a post about this on my blog. And no, I don't think I will watch the movie.

12 May, 2006 11:26  
Anonymous Michele Farrar said...

I disagree with the original critique of this film. Although, I am a nurse and I live in California. I found the film very compelling, the scenes beautiful, and the handling of the subject matter very objective. True, Gene's jump was left until last, but I don't think it was for suspense reasons only. His figure was very striking, in contrast to the people surrounding him and to the bridge itself. His hair, stature, clothes, stood out and couldn't help but attract attention. He posed the biggest question. Why would someone so deliberate in how he presents himself to the world choose to end his life. I felt, as an healthcare provider, I was given an opportunity to learn some very important lessons. The film was well done.

09 May, 2007 14:28  
Blogger Michael K. said...

I understand what you're saying, Michele, and I do think the questions w/r/t why "someone so deliberate in how he presents himself to the world choose to end his life" are interesting ones. Is Gene's jump an affirmation rather an escape? It's a really great question, one I'm in no position to answer.

But that isn't my problem. The film doesn't care about this question - the film cares about Gene as aesthetic object. I agree that Gene is the most striking of the jumpers - I said as much in the original review - but that's precisely the problem. Eric Steel wants you to think that he's made a film that asks questions about suicide, but he hasn't. He's made a film that uses human life - real human life, not fictive - as implements of suspense and aesthetics. I don't consider myself a humanist, but this I cannot accept.

Not to be condescending, but I think you have the figure of Gene and film mixed up. Gene's suicide does ask interesting questions, and his own aesthetic choices further those questions, but the film appropriates Gene's imagery for awfully vile purposes. Eric Steel uses the tropes of the documentary to create what is, essentially, a narrative film. And in that narrative film, he exploits death for purely aesthetic purposes. The results are aesthetically compelling, but morally and intellectually bereft.

09 May, 2007 14:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having just seen this film, I was considering making a blog post with the same comment.

The comments from the surviving friends were touching and I liked the interview with the surviving jumper.

But I couldn't help thinking that the director was saving the "best for last" and even that thought makes me a little angry. There's no best for last.

There are some very good things about this film, but that last scene just made me question the intention of the director and I re-evaluated everything that I'd just seen.

03 April, 2008 09:27  
Blogger brodybro1 said...

When you build a house, you put a foundation on the bottom and a roof on the top, with functionally interconnecting rooms in between. When you write a paper, you have a beginning, content divided into paragraphs that flow from one to the next, and a summary ending. When you make a film you construct it in the same way - you use the elements you have to communicate the idea with cohesiveness and to make the greatest impact and impression you can. Gene's footage was the best available footage to provide flow, cohesion, and final impact for the construction of this film. It is the artful use of available imagery that brings home the reality of the subject. That is what a well-structured film is supposed to do.

29 April, 2008 17:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really looked into why this film was made you'd probably have a different opinion on poor Gene...Eric and the crew radioed the officials everytime they saw someone suspicious...the information on every jumper was found AFTER they'd's a hard subject to watch,mainly because advertising brainwashes you into thinking life is happy and no-one should ever ever talk about really hard subjects...well,too is real and this film captured something real.take some meds and hide your sensitive head in the sand if you can't take it but stop with the passive-aggressive're wrong ;)

28 July, 2008 16:57  
Blogger Michael K. said...

It's remarkable to me how many comments this review continues to drum up, two years after the fact. I'd contend that simply making a film about people jumping off bridges is hardly facing a difficult truth or capturing something real. Contra, the aesthetic of Gene's jump is a disgusting piece of artifice, fetishizing the act of jumping, turning human life into dramatic fodder. The film becomes fascist.

29 July, 2008 22:18  
Blogger Stacey said...

I thought his hair was so beautiful, blowing in the wind. I posted about this on my blog as well.

02 August, 2008 04:50  
Blogger Rolsen said...

I saw this documentary for the first time 3 days ago. I am truly haunted by it. I don't know why-but I am compelled to learn more of Gene. His image keeps creeping into my thoughts. Maybe the filmmakers 'magic' worked on me-but I can't shake the eeriness of this film.

18 September, 2008 14:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont think the director exploited anyone. This taboo subject of suicide must be brought out into the open. I found it done in good taste and for one made my friend think twice about ending her life. It made her research just how painful a jump like that can be. She is now in therapy. We cannot stop people from free will. I think Mr. Steel has guts and i applaud him for this poignent film.

20 September, 2008 13:43  

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