This new, fantastic documentary by legendary wrtier/directer Werner Herzog tells the tale of a lonely but joyful man who lived in the Alaskan wilderness for thirteen summers to protect the grizzly bears, until he was attacked and killed by one of them.
The Alaskan Bear Project
What we have here is an Oscar-worthy picture. Each documentary that you see nominated for an Academy Award has something specific going for it; something that makes it unique and brilliant. Grizzly Man has a quality going for it that I know nothing this year will come close to — beauty. This beauty is sad and yet wonderful at the same time, moving me in a way I haven’t felt before at the cinema.
I haven’t seen Herzog’s other documentaries. I’ve heard they are all very well done, but I can’t see how any of them could be better than Grizzly Man. This film has a sort of perfection that makes one almost believe the tale was scripted for our entertainment, like The Blair Witch Project or Man Bites Dog. Anyone, nature lover or not, can enjoy what Herzog has put together for us.
The Kind Warrior
Timothy Treadwell is our hero, our guide, our “kind warrior” (as he likes to call himself). For thirteen summers, he traveled to Alaska to live among the grizzly bears, in order to watch over and protect them against famines, poachers or whatever else might be threatening their population. He would put his video camera on a tripod, enter the screen in front of a beautiful landscape where a grizzly would be, and discuss the bear.
These aren’t just any bears. These are his friends. The glamourous names he gives them range from “Mr. Chocolate” to “The Grinch”. Some of the relationships that he has with them go back a decade, while his love for them couldn’t be more real. Sometimes they get rather close to him, but he stands his ground and talks to them as if they were children. If one snaps at him, he stomps his foot and scolds, “Don’t do that!”. As the bear slowly scuffles away, he feels bad and calls out, “I love you!”
Although everything went well for such a long time, such a utopia wasn’t meant to last for the kind warrior. In his thirteenth summer, while camped at a dangerous location known as the “Grizzly Maze” with his girlfriend, they were attacked and eaten by one of the bears. Herzog touches upon the subject of their deaths three times in the film, once in the beginning, in the middle, and again at the end. At first I was confused by his decision to do so, but the result is very emotionally effective.
The interviews that Herzog conducts are very clever and non-biased. Besides Treadwell’s close friends and family, we hear from a bear biologist who says that his actions show that he actually wanted to become a bear. Or the helicopter pilot who helped carry away the remains of the two bodies, with his philosophy that “he was just a hippie” and “he got what he was asking for; he got what he deserved”.
Timmy the Fox
The film is narrated by Herzog, which I thought was very appropriate since this was such a personal project to him. At times, he tells the audience his theories about why Treadwell is doing what he is doing, and also incorporates deeper thoughts on touchy subjects, which often in documentaries would be a big no no. Yet the result is harmless, and even if you don’t agree with some of Herzog’s comments on the man’s intentions, it is still interesting to hear the filmmaker’s take.
One of the comments made by the raspy-voiced director that I agreed with, beyond any doubt, is that although Treadwell didn’t realize it, some of his footage was so spectacular, not even the greatest director could even dream about shooting such amazing beauty. This is said right before Timmy and Spirt, two foxes that live right outside Treadwell’s camp, are seen perched on top of his tent. We then get a hand-held shot of Treadwell frolicking with Timmy the fox through a vast field with towering mountains behind them. They get tired and Timmy, who has been Treadwell’s friend for over ten years, collapses in the grass and rolls about with a large smile.
But when it comes down to it, this documentary is so much more than one man’s bond with nature. This is also about Treadwell finding himself and facing his demons. Often times, we have footage of him crying or cursing at the camera, showing that this was no picnic. The bears meant so much more to him than any of us can imagine, and his passion on camera is portrayed with a kind of grace that is uncanny. In the midst of a raging rainstorm, his tent has nearly collapsed and he lays on the ground, hugging his stuffed bear saying “This is my life, this is what I do. I love it.”
It may be a bold statement, but I could say this film has squeezed its way into my “Favorite Documentaries” list. It definitely has the potential to move audiences as Roger & Me did, or have a legendary cult following like Crumb. For me, it stands as one of the greater documentaries of this year, and probably the decade. Ever since the screening, I have been ranting like a maniac to everyone I know about seeing this film — so don’t waste anymore time, see this movie!!!