Sunday, June 8, 2014

Grizzly Man | The ALASKAthon

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. 


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


  1. Das Boot was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, not Werner Herzog.

    1. Wooops, embarrassing! Thanks for letting me know, I keep thinking of them as one person.

  2. I love that rating system! This film sounds so interesting, I feel kinda sad now for not looking it up sooner. I'll still definitely see it, though! I'm becoming more and more jealous of you going there. To live. For so long! Ahhhh. :)

    1. Thanks, I'm a little proud of it too ;) If you watch this, you'll probably feel even more jealous but that's fine. Because it's an amazing doc.

  3. I can't say I enjoyed it, but I thought it was a good documentary. I can understand nature photography, but I never understood what Treadwell was doing exactly. I suppose that was the point of the documentary. Treadwell had some sort of delusion that he was protecting the bears, although I don't know what he was protecting them from. He wasn't protecting them from poachers or encroachment, so I don't really know what he was doing except watching them and getting way too close to them.

    He was just so profoundly strange. He clearly had some understanding that these were wild animals that could kill him, because he didn't just go up to them and hug on them. Yet he didn't seem to grasp the type of danger he was placing himself in. What makes me very sad is the terrible danger he placed his girlfriend in.

    That said, Treadwell clearly had mental health issues. To his credit, instead of taking it out on the world and shooting random people in a mall, he chose to spend his summers in the wild with grizzly bears. So for that Treadwell had my respect for doing what he loved, even if it cost him his life.

    In some weird way, I think that was probably how he wanted to "go." It's unfortunate that he took his girlfriend with him. She seemed so fearful sometimes, like she was worried something would happen (rightfully so). I wish that she would have gotten out of that relationship before it was too late.

    I'm glad that Herzog showed some restraint and did not allow the audience to hear the audio recording of their deaths. Just seeing Herzog's face as he listened to the recording was upsetting enough.

    1. This is the longest comment I have received in a long time - thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!
      I won't pretend that I knew what exactly Treadwell was doing, I just assumed he was putting some videos out there, perhaps online? Or maybe trying to assemble a film? I'm not sure. But some of it is unintentionally captivating.

      I also can't say that I know what Treadwell thought he was protecting the animals from, but his emotions seemed so real and transpired so well at times. He loved what he was doing and he seemed happy with with his life. Surely, it was very tragic for his girlfriend and she remains one of the most mysterious things in the film and about the story.

      Oh my god, that scene nearly killed me. You rarely see people react that strongly to *anything*, it was just shocking. Ugh. Reminded me of one of the last scenes in The Act of Killing, where the older guy throws up. It's terrible. But great filmmaking I think. It's not indulgent or sadness-porn or anything, it's just real.

  4. "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."

    YES! What an absolutely perfect way to describe the film as a whole, and, really, Herzog as a filmmaker. Very happy you appreciated this one so much. It's one of my favorite Herzog films.

    1. Thaaaaank you, Alex!! You don't know what your appreciation means to me!

      As for Herzog, I really need to watch more of his films. My knowledge of German film is so limited, it's embarrassing.

  5. Great review! I almost felt bad watching Timothy. That guy clearly needed help. I also felt like Herzog went in this with the idea to defend him, then half way through was like "nah, this guy is fucking crazy." Still, it's a good watch.

    1. Haha, that's a pretty good observation. Yeah, I loved both aspects of the film - crazy Timothy and the one you feel pity for.


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