All praise be to Eric Steel, whose new film The Bridge has the bravery to propose that people who commit suicide are emotionally unstable.

Is that flippant? Yes, it's flippant. But how else to respond to a film that shows an hour and a half of people talking about how depressed their loved ones were, before ending on a somber note that We Shall Never Understand Why.

Maybe it's just my own history with capital-"D" Depression talking here, but I understand why completely. When you're not mentally well, life sucks. I don't mean, "Goddammit I missed the train, life sucks," but rather, "I'm going to spend the next thirty years being just as unhappy as I am now." From that perspective, suicide isn't this weird inexplicable thing - it's an attempt to stop the hurting and to communicate just how much you hurt to the loved ones who never understood.

The Bridge, as I suppose is clear by now, is a documentary about suicides, particularly about the 24 people who ended their lives by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay in 2004. This figure is fairly typical, we are told. And it's a depressing statistic, there is no doubt about that. I don't want my snark to imply that the film isn't troubling and heavy. It's just that it's only troubling and heavy, because Steel fairly obviously doesn't have any opinion on suicide besides "people shouldn't do it."

The most frustrating part of the film is probably that it leaves a very fertile question unanswered and unexplored, even though it seems to be the central theme of the project: why the Golden Gate Bridge? It's the most popular suicide location in North America (how's that for a plaque?), but Steel is too busy being amazed that paranoid schizophrenics might want to end their lives to dig into that. Among the reasons which drift past and are ignored: it's beautiful, it's mythological, it's convenient and hard to get wrong, and my favorite, it's the place that everyone goes to kill themselves. The link between suicide victims and hipsters, revealed at last.

In order to make this film, Steel and his crew set cameras on either end of the bridge for one full year, filming every moment of every day. In this way, he managed to capture all 24 suicides one tape, and several of them are shown. This is disturbing, and I believe that this has tricked people into thinking it is a masterpiece instead of a snuff film. I was reminded in a slanted way of Nuit et brouillard, Alain Resnais' documentary about Auschwitz: that film uses photos of the dead prisoners to horrifying effect, while this film manages to leach the meaning out of watching suicides. Partially this is because many of the deaths are seen from a very far distance, as tiny splashes. We are meant to think that in this wide world, a life just went out, but it's far too abstracted. On the occasions that we see a jumper in close-up, the focus is not on the fall but on the camera chasing and overshooting the fall. It's not nice to say that Steel cared more about getting the shot than the content of the shot, but it's not really unfair, either. Especially in light of his comment in the Q&A I attended after the screening, where he mentioned that the idea for the film was born on 9/11/01, when he watched people jumping out of the World Trade Center through binoculars. That he had the impulse to grab binoculars tells you everything you could possibly need to know about his priorities.

What the film does right: the interviews with the families and friends. It's kind of amazing to hear so many people talk about why a loved one would kill themself without knowing what they're saying. Not in every case, but in many interviews, the subjects seem completely unable to overhear themselves. They describe exactly what drove each and every one of these people to suicide, and except for a few (the mother of one victim, a friend of another who asked him to keep her name in a plastic bag on his body, so when he was found she would get a call), they claim to be utterly mystified. Perhaps it is simple survivor's guilt; perhaps it is "but he seemed normal!" syndrome. At any rate, it is a lineup of self-delusional interviewees that calls to mind the work of Albert Maysles or Errol Morris.

And, in keeping with Steel's unexpressed idea that this is about images and not morality, the film is full of absolutely gorgeous footage of the Bridge. It is one of the loveliest man-made structures in the world, and there are plenty of postcard-ready shots scattered throughout The Bridge. Not, perhaps, what we want from a documentary on the line between life and death, but undeniably cinematic.