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The Bridge Documentary
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A Review of The Bridge Documentary You Won’t Forget That Easily

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Scout_BeckWhen I first watched the feature length documentary The Bridge (Eric Steel, 2006), I didn’t know what I was watching. I’d missed the hype. ~ Scout Beck

When I’d actually seen the film I still wasn’t sure what I’d just watched.

This 90 minute documentary containing footage of people jumping to their death from the San Francisco bridge was instantly divisive.

Critics on one side slammed it as nothing more than a glamorised snuff movie to others describing it as a poignant look at depression and suicide.

From ‘morally loathsome’ in the Guardian, to ‘tender, powerful work’, in the Denver Post, this was not a film to sit on the fence about.

Yet I do.

So, this may be A Review of The Bridge Documentary You Won’t Forget.


Controversy and The Bridge

The Controversy Over the Bridge Documentary is understandable.

It is a piece of work that raises question after question but the biggest issue of all is the ethics of the film itself.

There is so much to be uneasy about here.

Steel did not gain permission from the authorities to film the bridge for this purpose.

This is not my biggest problem however.

Permission was gained retrospectively from the friend’s and families to show the footage of their loved one’s death; when interviewed for the film they were unaware the footage existed.

Still not my biggest issue.

My biggest questions regarding this documentary are whether it is morally justifiable that this film was made at all.

Does it really have something to say?

Or is it a voyeuristic exploitative piece of work masquerading as art?

Life versus Art

To be a little crass the subjects of the film could not have granted their permission for the footage to be used, not can they offer us a view on the validity of the work as an insight into the mind of a suicidal person.

They cannot tell us if they wished they had been saved.

Simply put, they are only in the film because they are dead.

The interviews with the living serve in some part to bring to humanise the subjects but their use of the past tense bludgeons home what we have just watched.

Their own questions, their hurt, guilt and blaming of self and others is excruciating.

I accept that this is accurate.

It’s ugly but I know this is what grief sounds like.

Naturally they are absorbed in this but we are not. We are the viewers and we have some different questions.

One individual Gene Sprague is filmed for an inordinately long period before he jumps.

We know he is going to do it as we are already hearing it from his friends.

Yet his death looks preventable.

We have to accept the explanation from Steel that he and his crew did everything in their power to prevent each and every jump filmed otherwise this would be too unbearable to watch.

But the shooting of Gene’s last movements is wilfully prolonged and his death serves as some form of finale.

The artistic nature of the production is also questionable.

The beauty of the bridge and it’s surroundings were not designed by Steel, but that’s the only accidental aspect of it.

The panoramic shooting, the sentimentality of the music all bring a romance to what must not be forgotten, that these people, for a thousand reasons are jumping to their death.

They are not Icarus, they are not flying.

These are people dying.

Life through a Lens

Which is another issue with the film.

We become horribly immune to the ‘jumpers’ actions by the repetition and randomness of the editing.

We also unwittingly enter a terrible game of trying to identify who is a tourist enjoying the view, and who is so tormented by their life they are about to end it.

We become horribly immune to the ‘jumpers’ actions

We are naturally distanced from the reality of the suicides and as a photographer who captured a woman on camera about to jump before he intervened said:

“When I was behind the camera it was almost like it wasn’t real because I was behind the lens.”

You wonder if this is how Steel felt.

So, What is The Bridge Documentary About?

The film is one of unerring contrasts – beauty and horror, joy and sadness, the internal torment of an individual with their exterior presentation and of course life and death.

Perhaps by asking so many questions I have answered the original – whether this film should have been made.

Anything that raises this much debate must be justified.

Because of it’s nature this is not a film I would urge people to watch.

But for those who do: amidst the drama and the near mythical presentation; amidst the romance and the glamour, the blue skies and the epic grandeur of the bridge – remember these were real people, and if we remember their names at all, we must remember how we know them.


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