A devastating and heartrending take on grizzly bear activist Timothy Treadwell, who along with his girlfriend was killed in October 2003 while living among grizzlies in Alaska.
Directed by Werner Herzog
Written by Werner Herzog
Starring Timothy Treadwell, Amie Huguenard and Werner Herzog
Released 3rd February 2006
Run Time 103 minutes
We were asked to watch a film by Werner Herzog in last weeks 162MC lecture, so I chose to watch Grizzly Man. I like wildlife documentaries and I love grizzly bears, which is what influenced my decision, but this film isn’t really a wildlife documentary at all. Herzog has taken footage filmed by Treadwell himself during his time living with grizzly bears, and edited it together to create something that is almost a character study. Rather than focus on the grizzly bears and Treadwell’s work to protect them, it focuses largely on his psyche and how he was impacted as a person by his experiences with the bears.
The tragedy of his death is prevalent throughout and forms and underlying sense of foreboding and sadness. The footage is chosen in such a way that an emphasis is placed upon Treadwell’s development and ultimate downfall, and his dissatisfaction with civilisation and the human world.
I’ve always been interested in wildlife documentaries, which is what I was expecting Grizzly Man to be, and I have a similar attitude to civilisation and the damage humans do to the environment as Treadwell (although not quite as obsessive!) So in terms of how watching this has influenced my work, its interesting to see such a different take on the theme of nature, but also a film about how such a deep level of passion for something can affect a persons life. The documentary was almost solely made using Treadwell’s footage, so very little was actually shot by the filmmaker himself. Mixed in are several very contrived looking interviews with people who knew Treadwell personally, to add impact to the story and create depth. These interviews to me looked terrible, and it was a shame to have hindered what could easily be a fantastic film. Many times the people would finish what they had to say, and then stare awkwardly and blankly into the middle distance, as if they had come to the end of their script. For whatever reason, Herzog didn’t cut these scenes! Perhaps it was deliberate, although I can’t think of any reason why it would be, and it made the interviews and much of the ‘present day’ segments of the film seem contrived and awkward.
Treadwell’s footage gives the documentary a sense of realism, its atmospheric and all the more tragic. We see him struggle against civilisation in order to save his beloved grizzly bear friends, and we get an insight into his very personal thoughts, as the camera was his only company for the majority of his journey.
Herzog looks into the idea that Treadwell almost invented a character, and then lived up to it. Part of that character meant that Treadwell had to be alone, like a lone warrior fighting for his cause. Herzog then examines some of the footage, one of which is a handheld shot of Treadwell, that are indicative of another presence; one which Treadwell seemed keen to hide.
All in all, Grizzly Man is very interesting. The use of archive footage to form a story is clever and gives it more of a sense of realism as opposed to reconstructions of events. I really enjoyed it, I love bears for a start, but I also found the character study of Treadwell very intriguing, as there are small similarities in my own beliefs and thoughts.