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The Bridge

(2006) *** R
93 min. IFC Films. Director: Ileana Stanculescu.

A paranoid schizophrenic, a young man with a bipolar disorder, and a depressive walloped by love disappointments and the loss of his mother are among the 24 men and women who, in 2004, leapt off of San Francisco's most recognizable landmark: the Golden Gate Bridge. In his documentary film The Bridge, director Eric Steel assembles a scrapbook of suicide: reminiscences of surviving family and friends and magnetically morbid caught-on-tape records of people's last living moments on Earth.

While presenting shot after shot of people committing suicide by plunging off the Golden Gate Bridge, Steel never clarifies where he got the footage. That's a big mistake, as is a lack of explanation regarding whether or not authorities were informed (they were) when a suicide attempt was evidently under way. In fact, the footage was recorded during a year's worth of constant surveillance by Steel and his crew. Why would they stake out the massive, picturesque landmark? Well, as Steel's film informs us, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular spot in the world for suicide.

Inspired by Tad Friend's New Yorker article "Jumpers," The Bridge gives us a chance to consider why, and why the dead became so despondent, by interviewing those friends and family of the deceased, as well as one very lucky survivor of the four-second fall. It's a ghoulish film, but also humane in its sincere psychological interests in suicide and the response of those around the despairing. As one friend of the deceased puts it, "I don't know why people kill themselves. And yet it's a small step to empathize."

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