Grizzly Man

2005 crazy person documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: For thirteen summers, Timothy Treadwell had ventured into Alaska to hang out with grizzly bears and foxes. During his later trips, he even videotapes himself with the bears. Several times, he tells his camera that he would die for these bears, and then, as if to prove that he's not just all talk, he and his girlfriend Amy are devoured by a bear he nicknamed Grumpy.

On a technical level, putting all of Treadwell's footage and Herzog's interviews into something this cohesive and meaningful is quite the achievement. I really like how Herzog focuses on the smaller aspects of Treadwell's story. The Cliff Notes version of this is that Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear and that it was really gruesome. But Herzog gives us a much more complete picture of this nutty guy. He's much more than just a victim of a bear attack. My favorite moments from the interviews and from Treadwell's footage are the ones that are almost insignificant to the actual story--details about him working in a restaurant, his parents holding his stuffed bear, Timothy discussing his sexuality, lingering shots of the Alaskan landscape. Treadwell's footage is both haunting and sad, haunting as we see some of his last moments on earth and hearing him earlier seem to predict his death, and sad as we get such intimate glimpses into the soul of this tortured and pretty unstable guy. There's definitely some weirdness in this documentary, so much that I can understand why a lot of people might be put off by the whole thing or even think the entire thing is an elaborate hoax. Herzog's narration is often goofy and far from objective. He unapologetically shifts from documentarian to commentator several times. A lot of the interviews seem rehearsed and unnatural, as does a "candid" moment when the coroner gives Timothy's friend the watch that was found on his arm. I have no doubt that there was some coaching involved and that Herzog is guilty of creating a great deal of this reality, but I'm not sure that matters much. You also get such a disturbing picture of Timothy in his films, from the faux-action stuff where he's running around like an adventure seeker to the times when he completely spazzes out and turns himself inside out so that his internal dialogue is on full display, that he doesn't seem like he could possible have been a real person. There's an absurdity to all of this, and Timothy Treadwell was an absolutely absurd human being, but you're not going to get a more chillingly complete picture of this sort of obsessive personality. It's easy to see some parallels between subject and director here. This is dense stuff. The horrors and beauties makes Grizzly Man the type of movie that will bounce around your noggin for a long, long time after you've shut it off.


Barry said...

This movie was fascinating to me. I actually liked the Herzog comments, as his nasal German monotone lends an even more surreal aspect to the proceedings.

The funny thing is, I ended up really disliking Treadwell. I think he was just some nutjob that looked forward to martyring himself on the alter of his beloved bears. I dont remember if its in the documentary, but the Fish and Wildlife people talk about how there was almost no poaching of bears, and how they are actually doing very well as a species, then you hear Treadwell talk like they are being hunted to extinction. Eh, I just hate when people feel that the ends justify the means, that its okay to lie about something in order to get people to react to it.

The guy does everything wrong too. He is there getting bears used to a human living with them, which is about the worst thing possible for the bears. (They will show less fear around humans, and get themselves killed when they start approaching people at will.)

That said, its a sign of really good film making that you can do a documentary about a subject that I have almost no respect for, yet I am fascinated by watching it.

I give it a 19. Its really good.

Shane said...

I like Treadwell more than I feel sorry for him.

The information you mention (lack of poaching, the problem with the bears getting used to humans) is in the movie. That, combined with him seeing all those signs that poachers were taunting him and planning to physically harm him, really showed him as a paranoid guy. I think one of the most fascinating scenes is when Treadway is filming a wrap-up all about his success and gives a couple nice versions before launching into this hateful monologue where he curses at the people in charge of the park. And then he says (calmly), "All right, I'm going to do another nice one," and goes back to calm Timothy. It really showed a damaged mind.

cory said...

His rants and his stupidity make it difficult to sympathize with him, but this is a fascinating view of someone living on society's fringe, even if the end is almost frustratingly inevitable. A 16.

Shane said...

Do either of you think that a non-Herzog devotee would watch this and think that HE'S as messed up as Treadwell?

They would if they caught a glimspe of 'Fata Morgana'...

Barry said...

I am not really a Herzog devotee....I dont think Werner is exactly the most stable guy out there. But when you compare him to Treadwell, he looks like the most lucid man in history.

I kind of want to see this documentary again, thanks to this talking about it. Thanks.