Bear with me
Werner Herzog is noted for making films that include ‘animals doing unusual things’ and ‘long, extended landscape shots’ (IMDB). Grizzly Man fulfills both criteria, but more unusual than the behaviour of the bears that feature in this brilliant documentary, is that of film’s protagonist – Timothy Treadwell – an authentic American outsider who spent 13 long summers in a remote Alaskan wilderness documenting these wild creatures. It’s an examination of this obsessive, eccentric and ultimately deluded man, who is misguided into the belief that he is able to ‘make friends’ with some of nature’s most fearsome predators.
What makes this film especially interesting is the way Werner Herzog pieces it together as a kind of poem to man’s relationship with nature, intercutting Treadwell’s own – often inspirational – wildlife footage, his on-camera soliluquies, and interviews with family, friends and contemporaries. What catches the eye the most is the footage of Treadwell himself, ranging from his amusing wildlife ‘presentations’ to egomaniacal rants against the park authorities, poachers and other visitors to his remote hideaway.
What becomes apparent, and is expertly pieced together by Herzog, is that while Treadwell is selflessly committed to what he sees as the preservation of the bears, he may well be doing them as much harm as good, and he has faslely seen in them a mutual affinity that ultimately costs him and his girlfriend their lives. Is Treadwell’s obsession with the bears embelmatic of his more problematic relationship with human society? What is it that he is escaping from? As Herzog himself points out in monologue, there are moments in Treadwell’s films that are ‘pure cinema’. What makes this film great is that he allows these moments to breath, while building up a sensitive but unromanticised portrait of a troubled soul. Along with ‘Etre et Avoir’ and ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ – one of the greats in the current renaissance of the documentary film.