The concept of craziness is a crazy one. Though it may seem like there's far between the people who see themselves as normal and someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, depression or anorexia, there is something seemingly 'crazy' about everyone. Think about it: haven't you called most of your friends crazy at least once (probably more often)? What's more, haven't you called yourself crazy at least a dozen times? Having quirks is part of having a personality, being a grown-up person. Though even babies and animals are often describes as 'acting crazy' or 'having a crazy fit' or simply being 'a little crazy'. Where is the line between an actual mental illness - insanity - and the common craziness of humanity, of life?
Timothy Treadwell, the curious protagonist of Werner Herzog's 2005 documentary Grizzly Man was probably more than 'a little crazy', but at the very least, this describes him pretty well. The self-proclaimed protector of the grizzly bears spent more time in the company of those animals than any other human has ever done. For 13 summers, he set up his tent in remote areas of Alaskan national parks and studied grizzlies, of which 5 years were recorded on camera, adding up to 100 hours worth of material. Treadwell's remains were found at the end of summer 2003 along with those of his girlfriend Amy Huguenard - they had been killed and torn apart by a gigantic male bear.
Roger Ebert wrote that someone who got himself and his girlfriend eaten by a bear deserves Werner Herzog and I couldn't agree more. Timothy Treadwell is a tragic character and shares many similarities with the leads of Herzog's early films like Aguirre. In fact, with his mid-long blonde mane and astonishing enthusiasm and agility, he resembles one of Herzog's most frequently used actors, Klaus Kinski. Unlike the Herzog-esquian archetype, he has a very harmony-seeking and frail side to him though. We see him weep over the body of a dead animal, even stating that he loves a dead bee. Treadwell describes himself as "the kind warrior" and the stubbornness and precision with which he creates that persona is astonishing. Herzog wonderfully illustrates this by showing some of the shots that Treadwell shot countless times, repeating himself until he thought he had got it just right.
It is most certainly Herzog's skill that makes Grizzly Man the impressive documentary that it is. While Treadwell has a talent for setting up scenes well and making the most amateurish shots seem interesting and beautiful, the film would've been completely different if Treadwell had been to make it. Herzog's objectivity that is only seldom punctuated by personal remarks and the way he chooses to let the audience decide what to think about the bear enthusiast is remarkable. Many good and/ or popular documentarists have a tendency to be rather personal and subjective about their topic but all Herzog does is to let various people, including Treadwell, express their own opinion on the themes discussed in the film.
Grizzly Man is a surprisingly neutral film about a person who did very little to prevent people from thinking he was insane. While the many summers in the sunlit Alaskan nature are a treat for the eye, Herzog's delicate German accent is one for the ear. This documentary does just what a documentary should do: inform the audience and inspire it to think.
SPECIAL ALASKATHON MOVIE BREAKDOWN
How capturing/ engaging/ interesting is the film? (out of 5 northern lights)
How gorgeous does the film - or the Alaska in it - look? (out of 5x Timothy Treadwell's hair)
How much does the film itself make you want to go to Alaska? (out of 5 sledges)
2005 • USA • English
director and author Werner Herzog
with Timothy Treadwell, Werner Herzog, Jewel Palovak