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People suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business. This is a documentary exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular suicide destination in the world, and those drawn by its call. Steel and his crew filmed the bridge during daylight hours from two separate locations for all of 2004, recording most of the two dozen deaths in that year (and preventing several others). They also taped interviews with friends, families and witnesses, who recount in sorrowful detail stories of struggles with depression, substance abuse and mental illness. Raises questions about suicide, mental illness and civic responsibility as well as the filmmaker's relationship to his fraught and complicated material.Written by
The filmmakers captured 23 of the 24 known Golden Gate suicides in 2004. See more »
[after witnessing a suicide]
When I talked to the highway patrolman, I asked him "Is this a rare occurrence or does this happen a lot?" And he looked and me and he sort of smiled and he said, "It happens all the time."
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Man from Mars
Performed by Joni Mitchell
Courtesy of Reprise Records
By arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing See more »
Courageous and painful
It's interesting where people choose to target their criticism of this film. Whether the director was there with his camera or not, the individuals would have done what they did. If setting up a camera to record the acts is morally questionable, is talking about it? Reporting it? Discussing it? It's clear that many don't want to face this issue for a variety of reasons that are both universal and specific to the Bay Area. Suicide is a difficult subject and whatever your point of view"it's a sin" or "it's a release"the interviews that the director exacts from survivors (in every sense of the word in one case) are the real soul of this movie.
People don't want to talk about it and communities don't want to take responsibility for those faced with mental illness. In the Bay Area there has been a controversial proposal to fence the Bridge so that it won't be so "easy" for the suicidal. This film makes it clear there's nothing easy about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
The film doesn't raise the barricade controversy and the fact that there are patrols on the Bridge to identify those at risk. I think that was a wise choice because what the movie ends up being about is the sad, horrifying fact that those who leave their families or friends (or their communities at large) leave misery and apprehension and doubt. Perhaps, that's the point. Unable to cope with their own internal conflicts, they transfer it to others.
I don't remember a work of art dealing with the subject in such a direct manner leaving out psychological justification and medical terminology so we could pretend ignorance. From Shakespeare to Thelma and Louise, in our culture there's a false honor given to suicide. This movie makes it very clear that no honor or relief is ever the consequence of self-destruction.
The beauty of the area is so compelling here and the photography is just sensational. The opening sequence in particular, intercutting windsurfers with views of the subject, both the Bridge and a jumper.
As well, the range of people interviewed (casual witnesses, rescuers and the grim faces of family members and friends) is quite astonishing. Just when my gut would relax and I gained some composure, another sequence would start the dreadful realization that more agony was coming, more lives brutalized.
I found all aspects of this movie exceptional. Those interviewed, I hope, feel well treated by the film. I felt like there was great sensitivity and protection offered by the director. No one is blamed. There is no agenda for fences or better parenting or increased funding for mental health. The cinematography extraordinary. The soundtrack was perfect with the exception of the final song. It didn't have the weight of what preceded it. I'm not sure anything could have captured in summary what we had just seen.
I did find it hard to watch. Whether I needed to see it is debatable. But I certainly won't fault the filmmakers for doing it. Will it draw more people to jump? That remains to be seen. Will it stop anyone from jumping? I don't think so.
The film exposes the negligence we have towards those who want to die and how threatened we are by their state of mind. In one long anguished monologue, a woman reveals what she wished she would have done the night a friend said goodbye. I hope her message doesn't get lost in the hoopla about footage of people jumping or how the camera came to be set up that year. In agony, the woman states she will never ignore another person's need for help out of embarrassment for herself or embarrassment for the person making the threat. She will act to intervene the next time. And so will I.
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