by Scott Mendelson
One of the great tragedies of losing your life in a major and famous event, be it natural or man made, is that your life instantly pales in legacy; overshadowed for all time by the manner in which you died. When someone dies of old age, publicly or privately, it is easier to think of that person in regards to their quality of life and quality of personality. However, for those unlucky enough to die publicly, the stigma is forever. They will always be known in history primarily as 'died in Columbine' or 'perished on Pan Am flight 103' or 'jumped to their death off of the Golden Gate Bridge'. At least those in the last example chose their end.
The Bridge is a relatively hopeless film, both in tone and content, as well as construction and quality. It is, allegedly, a probing documentary about the Golden Gate Bridge and its penchant for being used as a suicide device. Apparently, it is the world's most popular destination for suicide. The film states that in 2005, twenty-four people leaped off the bridge to their demise. Of all the millions of people worldwide who choose to end their own lives, the fact that twenty-four souls chose the same spot is not exactly a revelation.
This film is not about the bridge and its history as a choice of suicide. It does not feature statistics, experts, historians, or anyone with any amount of exceptional knowledge. It is simply an observation of several suicides and those that did or did not try to help them, and the scars that the survivors now keep. The effect eventually becomes one of monotony and annoyance, especially due to the constant ignorance, in regards to depression on display.
Pretty much every person profiled was a sufferer of mental illness, from garden-variety depression to paranoid schizophrenia. What aggravates is that many of the stories basically involve surrender. Surrender to illnesses for which there is quality treatment available, surrender to misconceptions about various kinds of mental illness, and surrender to doing less than what could be done and then decrying the results. One story involves parents who basically allow their young son to commit suicide because they don't think they can stop him and want him to choose his own path. We never even discover whether that child was mentally ill and what steps were taken to help him in the first place. One of the main threads involved a young musician who waited till his mother died of cancer before ending his life. We learn much about his friends, who tried their best to be his family. But the film offers up ridiculous excuses (he was upset because he couldn't find love) and absurd what-ifs (the day he died, he was about to be approved for a job that he wanted), as if these simple events were catalysts or preventions in waiting.
To be fair, it is not the disagreeable attitudes and actions of the characters that makes this film so awkward, but rather that the film really has no focus. The film is not about the bridge, it's not about suicide per se, and it's certainly not about mental illness in any real or accurate way. It is, basically, ninety minutes of survivors discussing their grief over their loved-ones' untimely ends. Yet the overreaching theme seems to be that many of them really did not do much to prevent said tragedies, yet now are upset that their friends dared to end their own lives. Many of my friends suffer from varying degrees of depression and there is plenty of quality treatment available to render their conditions almost invisible. Yet, time after time we see someone bemoaning how his or her friend couldn't just shake it off or get over it. Yes, it is the responsibility of the actual suicides in relation to their actions, but the 'it's all in their heads' attitude about mental illness that most of the interview subjects seem to share says a lot both about them and, perhaps, about the filmmakers.
In the end, The Bridge is a portrait of grief, but without any real reason to hear these stories. Their lives were not defined by the bridge that they lept from, nor even from their final actions. It would seem that their lives were defined by the ignorance of those around them, in regards to the mental illnesses that eventually killed them. In many ways, the film is just as ignorant.