Documentary of the Day – Grizzly Man

A descent into madness or misguided good deeds of a man who’s only goal in life is to interact and raise awareness of bears in North America?  Those are the things that comes to my mind when watching Grizzly Man.  Without context, we would assume that the man known as Timothy Treadwell is a crazy environmentalist and animal advocate, doing something outrageous to bring attention to a cause by placing himself in the environment in which his cause resides in.  It is a man that might be on the edge of sanity, taunting death at every turn by trying to help and understand the bears in their environment.  But to better understand the reasons and situation better, instead of making conjectures, it took the documentary skills of German Werner Herzog to comb through 100’s of hours of footage to create the chronicle of one man’s tragic journey to save the Grizzly bears.

Timothy Treadwell was a self-styled authority on bears who, starting in 1990, would spend as much time as possible each year in Alaska, camping out near a grizzly bear habitat. While Treadwell claimed to love the bears and felt as one with them, he had no formal training in their behavior, and while familiarizing himself with the creatures he would walk within a few feet of them with a video camera in hand. To many, Treadwell seemed part man of nature, part conjuror, and part self-promotion expert, but the part that guided his kinship with the bears failed him in 2003, when he and his girlfriend were killed in a grizzly attack. Treadwell shot hundreds of hours of footage of himself and the grizzlies, and Herzog has used this footage as the core of Grizzly Man, a documentary look at Treadwell‘s life and death, while also including interviews with people who knew him, animal experts, and scientists. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Immediately, we are thinking that Treadwell got what was coming to him.  I am a more cynical person and might agree with that statement, especially not knowing much about the documentary beforehand.  The sheer idea of going to their habitat and living with them, encroaching on their territory and endangering both the bears and your life is reckless.  There is no excuse for that and his actions, while noble, were misguided and ultimately tragic.  Yes, Timothy Treadwell died as a result of his time living with the bears.  He and his girlfriend were killed and partially eaten by the very creatures he sought to protect.  It might be ironic, actually it probably is, but this was a man who stated that he would die for his cause it meant that they would be protected.

There is no known reason why the bears attacked and  killed Treadwell and his girlfriend.  Even with Herzog going through all the footage, there isn’t really an answer other than it happened.  It’s a chilling closing to what was a a young and active life, one who did more to bring awareness to the plight of bears in their habitat than anything else.  So to remember this man as more than just the guy who lived with bears and died by them, Herzog begins to piece together the life of a man who lived with his cause.

Herzog put together an amazing patchwork of actual footage of Treadwell’s memoirs and actions he took while living with the bear for almost 13 summers.  Treadwell is a free spirit, believing that he can be one with the bears and extolling his virtues about how we need to protect them and the lengths he would go for his cause.  Cut within the moments of his life are those that interacted with him, from the rescuers that found his body, to the park rangers who warned him and the ex-girlfriend Jewel Palovak.  With a vibrant life in front of our eyes, Herzog ponders that Treadwell might have wanted to die doing what he loved, seeking out the danger of the encroachment on Grizzly territory, but never condemns him as so many have.

I don’t know what to make of the closing of the documentary, one which has Herzog reviewing the final moments of Treadwell’s life that were captured on his camcorder.  It is only the audio that is available, but it is not played for the audience, only Herzog.  I kind of felt that it was used for an emotional point at the expense of Treadwell, but ultimately had the biggest impact as you Palovak’s face recoil as she looks at Herzog listening to it.  It chilled him to the bone and he says no one should ever listen to it.

Overall, Grizzly Man is one of the most powerful documentaries out there.  Herzog took steps of care and appreciation for the subject matter and film, letting the footage tell the story instead of making what he wanted out of it.  It is a diary for those that didn’t know Treadwell very well, so what you see of him is when he is at his best.  Treadwell managed to blur the line between man and nature, seemingly positing that all could live harmoniously without the need for encroachment.  He sadly becomes a martyr and victim for his cause, a tragic ending to a life that people just might not be able to comprehend.  The footage that documents his life and efforts are a thing of accidental beauty, amateurish in some instances, but filled with poignant moments that capture both his life and the bears he lives with.

* images via RottenTomatoes

About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

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