Sunday, February 18, 2007


Last night, SK and I went to the Clinton Street Theater and watched an incredible documentary about people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Wow. The movie, called The Bridge, is the result of a year-long video stake-out of the bridge and is filled with gorgeous images of the bridge in all sorts of weather: bright and sunny, standing starkly against the steady flow of moving fog, and sometimes completely obscured by the impenetrable gray haze. Night shots, day shots, morning, sunset, shots from several different angles: the bridge is beautiful and you can understand why more people chose to end their lives there than anywhere else in the world.

Twenty-four people jumped to their deaths in 2004, the year The Bridge was made. The filmmakers captured almost all of them. Of course, they weren't exactly truthful with the city about why they were filming the bridge, and the city wasn't too happy about it. And, before you get too upset about the questionable ethics involved in filming suicides without trying to stop them, the filmmakers called bridge security every time they noticed anyone doing anything suspicious on the bridge.

Nonetheless, 24 people still jumped off and died and we viewers get to see several of those jumps. I was most surprised by the un-deliberateness of many of those jumps. Certainly they were deliberate. Certainly those jumpers had spent a lot of time thinking and planning and talking themselves into such an incredible, breathtaking act. But when go-time came, they just seemed to hop off, as though worried that someone might come along any minute and snatch them back to safety. They tended to look furtively around before throwing their legs over the edge like people trying not to be caught jumping a subway turnstile, not like people about to plunge to certain death.

It wasn't what I imagined suicide would look like. And that by itself is interesting. What had I imagined? Why did I think I would know? I work with a population full of suicidal people and I talk to at least one person a day who claims to be suicidal. In my six years in this particular job, however, I have known NO ONE who actually succeeded, and I have come to view almost all the attempts I've seen as cries for help, not true acts of failed suicide. I have heard of other clients in other programs who have succeeded, most recently a person jumped from a fourth or fifth floor window in our sister program and eventually died, and I have to admit, that was a shakeup for me. I hadn't known him, but it woke me from my jaded stupor and reminded me that they're not *all* just looking for attention.

This movie is full of images of people not looking for attention, but somehow getting it in the end anyway. That alone is pretty ironic. But there's more to the movie than scene after scene of plummeting bodies. Gorgeous shots of the bridge, and the occasional jumper, are interspersed with interviews with friends and family of several of the jumpers, including an interview with a young guy with bipolar disorder who jumped and, at the last minute, decided he didn't want to die. So he managed to work himself into a position that he hoped would be least likely to kill him. And he lived. Although, the interview with his cold, unfeeling father makes me think he might try again someday. I hope not though, he seemed like such a sweet guy.

Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with this. Everyone should watch it. It's much less disturbing than I would've thought. It's just really, really interesting and I left feeling a lot of compassion for the people driven to jump and the people they left behind.


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