Saturday, May 2, 2009
Do a quick search on the net and you'll find pictures of a horrific car accident that claimed the life of a teenager in California. The pictures are real and were leaked by a California Highway Patrol officer. The family is suing the CHP, and for good reason. They they show the victims near-decapitated body as it sits in her crumpled Porche, her head nearly unrecognizable as that of a human.
I am not part of the group of people who would have leaked the photos, posted them on the dead girl's MySpace page, emailed them to her family, or posted them on a blog and captioned them with snarky commentary (all of which occurred).
But being human, with all the morbid curiosity of death that keeps my fear of it at bay, I followed a link and viewed the shots. They are revolting, but I 'x'ed out of the site more disgusted with myself than with the photographs.
The Bridge, a documentary about suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, leaves you wondering to which group the filmmakers belong.
In 2004 The Golden Gate Bridge averaged a successful suicide attempt every fifteen days. Over the course of that year the documentary was able to capture, start to finish, several of those deadly jumps on film.
Mind you, it isn't a snuff film and the suicides themselves consume a relatively short amount of film. In the rest of the movie we're introduced to the family and friends of the deceased. We learn their stories - sometimes from childhood on - and not only try to grasp what led to that final decision but examine the impact it had on loved ones.
It is an astonishingly depressing and morbid film. I can handle that, if there was a point behind its creation. I have to assume the filmmakers went into the project believing they would honor the dead and explore the effects of suicide, and perhaps discourage someone from doing the same. They failed on all counts.
Jumping - an action one interview labels theatrical by its very nature - is made into a sad but almost poetic end to a life. While the friends who are interviewed are almost universally aghast and view the suicide, sometimes angrily, as a cop out, the family members are oddly accepting. Perhaps they are seeking to assuage their own guilt, or are worn out by a lifetime of dealing with the deceased. Either way it is disconcerting to hear a parent seemingly brush off the death of a son. One father assures his child, as they discuss his desire to die between attempts, that suicides are not judged harshly by God and that sometimes the pain of life is just too great. One woman tells her nephew only to make sure to say goodbye before he kills himself, and later tells the camera that it was an act that might have been predestined from birth. And so on.
Judge those people, don't judge, it doesn't matter; what matters is that in a film like this, whatever the reason behind their statements, it reeks of a big 'OK' for viewers to accept the idea of killing themselves.
In addition, The Bridges's focus on the Golden Gate is a farce. For the jumper there is no significance to the bridge except as a convenient means of finishing a life that would have been ended by other means in Denver or Portland. What I perceive as the true relevance of the bridge in the movie is this: it's the only place they stood a chance of capturing the act of suicide on film. Period.
I have a greater problem with the fact that these weren't abrupt, spur of the moment acts. Most of the deaths follow the same routine: they begin with a pensive, pacing individual who hesitantly climbs over the rail but then lets go with a resolute quickness.
The camera catches this all, and at some point the cameramen became very adept at spotting a future jumper. They zoom in on an individual and follow them for an astonishingly long time, even focusing in on the last horrid minutes as the jumper stand on the ledge debating his end.
There is an endless amount of time for the filmmakers to pick up a phone and alert the police to a potential jumper. The San Francisco cops certainly seem used to the task, as the film shows them questioning people that linger on the bridge.
To ID a suicidal act and sit idly by is reprehensible. This lack of action is a passive contribution to the deaths and a black mark against their artistic and literal soul.
View it and see if you feel the same way.
p.s. - I don't believe the state has a responsibility to actively safeguard it against suicide, but I do question why, if the act is so prevalent they don't stop wasting time and resources and just erect a railing higher than four feet?