Monday, August 27, 2007

Our shared despair

Last month one of my bloggy friends, Bella, posted about a movie called The Bridge. It is a documentary about people committing suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

I finally had an opportunity to see this film this weekend. My feelings on it are, as you might imagine, mixed.

I applaud the filmmakers focusing on the topic of suicide, as this is a subject I am clearly interested in; but I'm not sure I quite understand the point of making it. Of course anything that brings this 'taboo' subject out into the sunlight is fine by me - but I don't know that it actually educates. Maybe I'm too close to it, maybe for people who have no prior brushes with suicidal thoughts or suicides among their friends or family would find it a good introduction. But.... I dunno.

I bring it up here not so much to encourage anyone to watch it, because as I said, it's not particularly educational, but more to describe what watching it did to me, emotionally.

Babies, I wept.

Oh not the entire time, but there were moments I just bawled. The one thing that was pointed out, not in the film itself but in a supplementary feature on the 'making of' which is included on the DVD, is that the filmmakers who were staking out the bridge for a year and filming actual jumpers all noted something interesting. When they began the project they didn't know what they were watching for: until they knew. It seems they would watch anyone who looked agitated or furtive as they might be potential jumpers. But they never knew exactly who might try (or succeed in) jumping. Until they saw someone who truly was going to do it. And they KNEW the minute they saw them. It seems instinct kicked in. They couldn't put a name to it, but they knew "this is a jumper". To their credit, when they could do so they called the Bridge and alerted the officials who could interceed and hopefully stop the attempted jump - but they didn't always have enough forwarning to get help out in time.

The interesting thing here is how the filmmakers reacted.

In this supplemental 'making of' film they described the jumpers they caught on tape and how they sensed that they would jump. Then they described how they felt. All of them expressed a sense of loss and shock, almost devastation, that would stay with them always. The witnesses who were on the bridge and saw jumpers expressed a similar viewpoint.

I find this fascinating.

The family and friends of the jumpers who were interviewed appeared cut off from the stories they related, yet the strangers who were witnesses to the jumps are forever marked by the experience.

It makes me wonder about instinct, the shared subconscious and how incidents like this prove how truly connected we all are. It also makes me wonder why it takes such extreme circumstances to highlight it and make us aware of that connection. We are individuals, true, but we are joined in ways we do not understand. Not joined simply by being members of the same species. Not joined by living in similar circumstances. Joined at a completely visceral level, a spiritual level that, if we explore it, might be the one thing that could save us all. We are all tiny parts of a greater whole and if we could join hands in love instead of trying to kill each other what wonders could we perform? What sufferings could we not cure?

Yeah I know, one minute it's Mothra videos and the next it's Jungian theory, but we're all made up of so many little quirks, aren't we?

The despair someone feels when they contemplate suicide is so profound, and so all-encompassing, it isolates them from that connection to the world, to other people - especially to those closest to them. Yet it is possible for the outside world to feel and empathize with their pain and hopelessness and offer a hand in comfort. For me it was a shock. A complete and utter shock to realize that I was not the only human on the planet who had felt the type of pain I was in. It was that recognition that startled me out of my despair just long enough to get the help I needed. And as I've said here before, that help came from a total stranger.

When I hear stories like the ones told in The Bridge I am reminded of that connection, and that feeling of "oh... I'm not really alone here". We are none of us as alone as we think we are when we hurt so badly that the only option we can see is death. We're really never alone. We are all here together, and we are all joined far more fully than we realize.

I read on the 'net this morning about Owen Wilson being hospitalized and that it may have been a suicide attempt. It breaks my heart. We look at someone like this and think "what does he have to feel despair about?" My answer would be: what do any one of us have to feel despair about? I know as well as anyone just how easy it is to hide those feelings of self-hatred and sorrow from the people closest to me. Sometimes it takes a stranger to sense that pain and be open to our deeper instincts, the ones that let us see that despite our differences the stranger next to us is more like us than we ever dreamed.


Junk Thief said...

I've been aching (yes, I avoided saying dying) see it for quite some time. I guess because it's a local flick, I've not been able to find it in rental and really don't know that I want to own it.

So far, I'm pretty mixed on it. The topic is close to me because of the suicide of my aunt last December (yes, that notorious aunt). What was so disconcering with her was her absolute lack of despair and how she went about it as she did everything -- with absolute precision, forethought and perfectionist's eye for detail.

Even her vicar would not judge her, and said it was a decision she chose to make. I still think suicide is wrong because of what it does to the other people, and the mere fact that it sort of feels like cheating. I really don't think in every case (as with my aunt's) that it's a plea for help.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Excellent post!

Did the film make any mention of the people who jumped and survied?

I think most (butn not all) people in this country are too wrapped up in themselves to see any sort of connection. Ours is a selfish society.

Joy said...

JT - I totally agree that it is not always a plea for help. In my case the last thing I wanted was help, which is why I kept up appearances: I didn't want any interference. Though I am thankful EVERY DAY for the interference I got.

Whim - thank you for asking, I meant to add this and totally blanked. There was one fellow who survived. A young guy with bi-polar. He said there was a seal swimming around him after he hit the water and was trying to stay afloat. His feeling is that the seal saved him from drowning - and this was the hand of God (however you want to interpret God). It was his story that wrecked me the most: because rather than second-hand information this was someone who had been PRECISELY where I had been and I was empathizing A LOT. Interesting fact is that since his jump he feels he has a mission or responsibility (I forget how he worded it) to help others who are suicidal. Hmmm. I guess there's a trend. Something about getting through something so horrible that you can't help but WANT to help others.

I'm just guessing that you can relate to that sentiment. :)

AND I'm so glad you're signal's working!!!

Gary said...

Allow me to quote you my dear...

"If we could join hands in love instead of trying to kill each other what wonders could we perform? What sufferings could we not cure?"

Can you imagine? You got me thinking of the possibilities and I can't seem to pull my mind away from it. This whole post is just excellent. Really, excellent!

Joy said...

Awww shucks Gary, thanks. :)