Grizzly Man (2005)


“Grizzly Man” is a documentary directed by Werner Herzog that chronicles the last years of a man whose life is driven by a dangerous obsession. Timothy Treadwell is the quintessential Herzog character. His life was directed by an obsessive purpose that suppressed a darker side within. His work only made sense in his own universe but most people would call him a maniac if not an idiot. He was only alive in the field doing his work that would eventually kill him. He is the rather unlucky real life version of Klaus Kinski’s character in “Fitzcarraldo“.

Treadwell was the self-proclaimed guardian of the grizzly bears. He was the co-founder of the Grizzly People with his ex-girlfriend Jewel Palovak, which concerned with the treatment of the grizzly bears. Every summer he launched an expedition to the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. He camped there close to the bears as their “guardian” until they went into hibernation. During his last expedition, he brought along his girlfriend Amie Huguenard. They were attacked by a seemingly hungry and unfriendly bear which never met Timothy, killed and partially eaten.

After all, it looks like the bears do not really need his protection. They are fairly safe, except some occasional disturbance from the hikers. They live in their own concealed world, and indifferent to everything else. One of the interviewees suggested that the bears found him harmless because they thought he was retarded or something, which was why he went safe until the fateful event. We can assume Timothy was up for it, how about his girlfriend? She was obviously frightened by bears, she went anyway because she loved the man.

This is a rare documentary in which the director does not approve the actions of the protagonist. Timothy’s worldview is that of the disneyland – bears are harmless and his savior, and he is only normal among them, he is a failure from the human world. That casts a strong contrast to Herzog’s cold and logical view of the universe, which is full of cruelty and indifference, survival is the only rule. Timothy’s lifelong obsession, however, must have stirred some sort of connection to Herzog, for he is himself famous for his intense obsession – he pulled a large ship up to a mountain top somewhere in Amazon for the film “Fitzcarraldo”, with no trick photography, he really did hire a crew of aboriginals to do this stunt. In the very same film, he reportedly held a gun to Klaus Kinski so he wouldn’t leave the set. The incident is well documented in “My Best Fiend“.

There is another film called “Into the Wild” directed by Sean Penn that deals with a similar topic – a young man disdains civilization that he runs into the wild, lives there for a short while until his eventual death from food poisoning. What makes “Grizzly Man” distinctive is that the director strips off the romanticism that often associates to the theme, and uses this to reflect his very own philosophy about man’s place in the universe.

Grizzly Man” is directed by Werner Herzog“, starring Timothy Treadwell who played himself.


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