SPOILER ALERT: As a documentary short, there isn't much to discuss without basically giving away the entire film. However, this film is available to watch on the New York Times website. I encourage you to click that link and watch the film before reading this review. Thanks!
Fear is one emotion so readily apparent when we see its effects in the lives of others. Yet, it is often difficult to see how fear impacts our own decisions. Ten Meter Tower - a documentary short from the New York Times - does a fantastic job of showcasing this. When I watched it, I found myself going through an interesting process.
The film places cameras around a high-dive board and watches as various people come to the edge to jump. It sounds simple enough, and it is. There are very few of the cinematic flairs or technical strategies we've come to expect in documentaries. But that is because this film doesn't call for all that. Here, we are simply to watch and consider what we see.
Maybe it isn't surprising that the first person we see who jumps from the diving board is a young girl. That's not to say that we do not experience fear when we are young. Who among us wasn't afraid of the dark or didn't experience trepidation when we first learned to ride a bike? But it often seems that, when we're younger, we push ahead despite the fear. Everything is new to us when we are young, so we don't consider all the worst-possible outcomes.
As you watch people step to the edge of the dive board, you can see those worst-possible outcomes running through their mind. I started imploring them in my mind to just jump. Jump! But then the camera pans back and shows just how high up they are. I started to come to the realization that I would undoubtedly have the same fear holding me back were I in their position.
Some of them do decide to jump. As they do, I found my thoughts first drifting to what might happen to their feet and legs upon impact rather than marveling at their ability to overcome their fear. Again - worst case scenario.
My next stage was chastising myself for not being able to theoretically jump. "Of course I'd jump!" I thought. I would only need to muster up a little courage. Or maybe it would be better to just run and jump off the board immediately once I get up there. I began to envision myself doing this. But, as some jumped and some didn't, my mind inevitably drifted once again back to the height of the board. I thought the documentary was very good upon first watching it. But it was later that same day when I realized just how special it was.
My wife and I were getting ready to go out someplace we'd never been before. It was something new, but we had heard good things from a few of our friends. And it wasn't a particularly scary situation - just something new.
In the hours before we were supposed to leave, I found myself going through the various things that could go wrong. I considered times when I had been awkward in meeting people in the past. I thought about friends I know who might be there and whether or not they'd wonder why we hadn't connected in a while. Then, it dawned on me.
Fear. I was giving into fear. I was walking back from the edge of the board and stepping back down the ladder.
There was one especially moving shot from this documentary that watches as someone makes their way down the ladder after deciding not to jump. It takes forever. So much more effort is expended by giving into the fear and choosing not to jump.
Sometimes fear is necessary and helpful. It can keep us from going headlong into a situation that will be disastrous. But I've found that fear can just as often, maybe even more so, hold me back from doing something that, while maybe painful initially, will be ultimately good. Or, as in the case of my wife and I going to this new place, it might be something that is only painful in my head when I listen too closely to the fear stalking behind me.
Ten Meter Tower is one of a few powerful documentary shorts I've seen that will likely be in competition for this year's Academy Award. Though it is incredibly simple in its concept and execution, the results are powerful. I encourage anyone to watch it, something you can do by heading over to the New York Times website.
Note on content: As this takes place at a swimming pool, all the people involved are wearing swimsuits. Some are more revealing than others, but it's nothing worse than what you would see at your average beach or pool. There are a few instances of profanity, but no violence or other mature content.