May 18th, 2010

The Bridge

I think it was 1996 when I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with a vanful of other people.  We were on our way to Eugene, Oregon, and there were certainly other ways to get where we were going that would have been cheaper, but we didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.  I don’t actually remember much about the drive across – I think it was foggy? – and if I ever go back, I think I’d like to walk it instead.

This is one of my favorite pictures ever of the bridge, taken by my friend Bonnie:

It’s a beautiful structure, and a testament to man’s ingenuity, certainly.  It’s the 9th-largest suspension bridge in the world, and there are 41 million crossings a year.  The paint is continuously being touched up, and the color is orange vermillion.  (source) The bridge is a famous landmark, and its inclusion in movies and TV shows immediately set the location and connect even science fiction stories to the present.  One of my favorite scenes involving the bridge is when the crew of the Enterprise flies a Klingon Bird of Prey underneath it in the early morning fog (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home).

Sadly, the bridge is famous for another reason as well.  It is reportedly the number one spot in the world for suicides.  The water is about 245 feet below the bridge, and anyone jumping from it hits the water around 76mph, fast enough that the water tends to take on concrete-like properties.

I recently watched the documentary The Bridge.  I saw a trailer for it and it intrigued me.  The filmmakers set up cameras during the whole year of 2004, with the specific intent of catching on film people jumping from the bridge.  There are interviews with family members and friends of those who jumped, and there are also clips of a man who survived his jump, a man who decided immediately after his hands left the railing that he “didn’t want to die.” It is a surprisingly moving film, but it is at the same profoundly disturbing.

I was touched by these family members’ stories, and saddened by these souls who had made this decision.  I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been close to having those thoughts, and it was hard for me to understand how they came to their decisions.  At the same time, though, I kept thinking about the filmmakers, “Who are these people that can film this??”  I could not, could not, could not get my head around that.

I read around a little and found that the filmmaker tricked the Bridge committee into letting him film by saying he wanted to “capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge.”  The “making of” featurette on the DVD didn’t alleviate the creepy feeling I had, either.  Yes, the film crew would call 911 when they had a suspected jumper, but it all seemed terribly voyeuristic and exploitive.

With that said, I still think the film is an important one.  My first thoughts upon finishing it were “Anyone planning to be a therapist or a counselor should watch this” and “I need to know my friends better and keep an eye out for any signs of any self-destructive thoughts.”  Overall I felt… helpless.  There were 24 people that jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004.  I didn’t know any of them, and now I never will.  John Donne said it best, I think: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

I am sorry for the sobering nature of this entry.   The film really had an effect on me, but I don’t want to leave it there.  There is hope.  If you or someone you know struggles with despair, please seek help:

National Association of Nouthetic Counselors
Website or call (317) 337-9100 to find a counselor near you


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Website or call  800-273-TALK