Grizzly Man

Timothy Treadwell (1957-2003) gained notoriety during his lifetime for living amongst the white grizzly bears of Alaska. He would film his summer 'expeditions' and travel around the country during the rest of the year to educate people about the plight of the bears. His very actions were controversial, and he died in the summer of 2003 when a bear killed and ate him and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard. Treadwell left over one hundred hours of footage of his expeditions, and director Werner Herzog (The White Diamond, Wheel of Time) edited it down to a little over ninety minutes.

The result of a fascinating look at a troubled man who was clearly passionate about what he did, although was probably going about things the wrong way. Herzog, who narrates the documentary, edits the footage in such a way that he continually pulls back layers on Treadwell's personality. He begins with the bear footage. Whatever one may think of Treadwell, it is hard to deny that the footage he shot was compelling. Treadwell literally lived with the bears, and according to some, wanted to be one. He gave them all names, interacted with them, and spoke to them. In some cases he was challenged by them for superiority. Using a digital camera, he shot footage of bears and of himself narrating his movies. He would talk about the individual bears, their habits, and explain why they did what they did. While they may look extremely cute, it is important to remember that they can be very dangerous creatures.

Herzog mixes in footage with interviews of Treadwell's friends and acquaintances. He interviews some who think that Treadwell "got what he deserved." As the footage deepens, Herzog begins to show other facets of Treadwell's personality. He comes across as somebody who thinks of himself as a hero, with enemies that may or may not be real. A few people disagree with Treadwell's methods. Showing that he is no threat to wild bears may cause them to feel no fear if they were to come in contact with other humans. In one particularly frightening moment, Treadwell unleashes a torrent of obscenities aimed at various people he hates. This contrasts with tender moments where he plays with foxes as if they were dogs or cats.

The most fascinating aspect of Grizzly Man is that Herzog is able to capture Treadwell in his own words. Nearly everything on the screen is from Treadwell's own mouth. His friends and colleagues give glowing remarks on his character and motivations. Yet, take a step back, and Treadwell becomes a much more muddled figure. He constantly stressed how he was out there alone, yet Huguenard and a few other women accompanied him for periods of time over the years. Worse, he broke the law for reasons he felt were justified. The strongest points in Grizzly Man come from Herzog's interviews with Treadwell's friends. Although his demise was not particularly surprising, the emotional shock is still present. The most powerful point in the film comes when Herzog listens to the tape of Treadwell and Huguenard dying. Although the audience never hears the footage, the silence alone is shocking.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for language.

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