“I love them with all my heart. I will die for them. I will not die at their claws and paws…… I will be Master.”
Grizzly Man (2005) is a documentary directed by Werner Herzog. It follows the life of Timothy Treadwell and the events that led up to him and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard being killed and eaten by a bear(s) in October 2003. Herzog uses footage Treadwell himself filmed, mixed with personal interviews to give an insight into Timothy’s world. Helping explain his motivation for leaving the ‘human world’, as he referred to it, and setting up camp with, what most people would consider, ‘savage’ wild animals in the remote mountains of Katamai, Alaska.
The film begins with Timothy talking to the screen. Telling us about his ‘quest’ and always emphasising the danger of getting so close to nature. But in such an over exaggerated, dark way i was reminded of a gothic teenager’s fascination with death. The film is, initially, quite balanced, as we view Treadwell’s colleagues opinions compared to those of officials. Both viewed Timothy’s love for bears very differently. His colleagues saw his work as inspirational while the Alaskan natives viewed it as disrespectful and naive. Sam Egil goes as far as to suggest Tim “got what he was asking for.”
But as the film progresses we begin to see a more one sided account of Tim. Photos of Treadwell as a child interspersed with touching accounts of things he had done, which i feel just weren’t needed. The footage of Herzog listening to the audio tape of Timothy and Amie’s last moments had him visibly shaken and reaching out to his interviewee for support. Advising her to never listen to the tape and destroy it. I wonder if a different director would have just as eagerly encouraged her to let them play it for the audience to hear.
By the end of the film Herzog seems confused about his opinion of Treadwell, and in turn it confuses our opinion of him. He obviously respected him very much as a filmmaker and believed that Timothy was doing what he thought was right while also rebelling against civilisation and battling his own demons. But he also concludes the film with his confession that he doesn’t understand Timothy’s link/friendship with the bears and can see nothing but an animal looking at potential prey.
Werner Herzog is quite an eccentric and determined character himself. During a interview with Mark Kermode for the BBC, discussing Grizzly Man, Hergoz is shot by a sniper with an air rifle, yet he barely flinches, insists he is fine, and continues the interview. Telling Mark that the injury is “not a significant one.”
IMDb lists one of Herzog’s trademarks as making films that centre around “driven protagonists who often seem to be on the brink of madness” Herzog strongly believes that people should have the bravery to follow their dreams and even went so far as to eat his own shoe to motivate a fellow filmmaker to complete a project!
I wonder if maybe these traits helped him identify more with Treadwell and is, possibly, another reason why this documentary is not as impartial as i would like. There is also the fact that Jewel Palovak, Treadwells ex-girlfriend and partner/co-founder of the foundation Grizzly People, co-produced the film. Someone so close to the film’s subject is unlikely to have a totally unbiased viewpoint.
At the beginning of Herzog’s documentary i perceived Timothy as naive and idealist, maybe even arrogant and a little stupid, but as the film continued you begin to realise his life was a lot more complex. I believe that Timothy may possibly have had mild autism and could have been bi-polar, which would explain his extreme mood swings. Many people with autism have problems with social situations and maybe this is why Timothy felt more comfortable in the company of animals than humans. The film left me eager to research more about Timothy’s life. To find out other people’s opinions on his work and the possible reasons why a bear turned on him that night. I was interested to discover that since Treadwell’s death six bears have been killed by poachers at Katamai’s National Park. In the film Timothy mentions poachers but officials dismiss this as his paranoia. Yet during the 13 seasons that Treadwell camped in the Preserve not a single bear was poached.
Grizzly Man reminded me of another documentary with a very different viewpoint. Hercules the Human Bear (2014) Channel 5, supports Treadwell’s belief that man and bear can live in harmony and can actually, under the right set of circumstances, be very good friends.