Grizzly Man

***1/2

Reviewed by: George Williamson

Grizzly Man
"Herzog delivers an excellent documentary that gives a strong sense of meaning to Treadwell's strange life and violent death."

"They're challenging everything, including me - it goes with the territory. If I show weakness, if I retreat, I may be hurt, I may be killed."

Timothy Treadwell was a self-proclaimed "kind warrior", a man who lived with the bears in the Alaskan wilderness for 13 summers, filming for five of them, before he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguengard, were killed and eaten by one of the grizzlies that he was studying. Werner Herzog has recorded testimonies from a wide range of people who knew him and cut more than 100 hours of his footage into a patchwork portrait of a man who wanted to "mutually mutate into a wild animal". Through the course of the film Treadwell's persona blurs between vitriolic animal rights activist, Steve Irwin and - all too often - a bear besotted hippy, tragically unaware of what he's doing.

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Grizzly Man is approached carefully, choosing to examine Treadwell's life in balance, predominantly using his own footage, including breathtaking shots of the Alaskan wildlife, diary style confessionals and staged portions of TV outtakes. First and foremost, it portrays a man in love with the animals and the wilderness, who has escaped a life of depression and alcohol addiction through his ursine obsession. His playful frolics with foxes and bears show his lack of fear of the wild and disregard for his own safety. The interviews give a broad perspective on Tim, ranging from his sympathetic friends and pilot to the Aleutian natives who saw him as disrespecting the bears through his presence and a park ranger who considered his death as nature fighting back, believing that "he got what he was asking for".

Herzog never allows the film to veer into morbid sensationalism - we see him listen to a tape, recorded during the attack when Treadwell and Huguenard were killed, and return it, recommending that it be destroyed rather than included - and he also steers clear of miring sentimentality, avoiding any chance that this could become Dances With Bears. He seems fascinated with Treadwell as a filmmaker rather than an animal rights activist, looking at the energetic and often beautifully improvised work, trying to understand a man who looked at the world from a completely different perspective to his own. He avoids questioning whether the way in which Treadwell acted was right or wrong and whether he was responsible for his girlfriend's death, maintaining an objective distance from his subject, which juxtaposes harshly with Tim, who directly interfered with his.

The grizzly man was clearly living on the fringes of humanity, feeling closer to the animals than most of the people around him, slowly but surely heading for an inevitable, sad end. Herzog delivers an excellent documentary that gives a strong sense of meaning to Treadwell's strange life and violent death.

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2005
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Werner Herzog examines the psyche of Timothy Treadwell, a man who lived and died with bears.
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Read more Grizzly Man reviews:

The Exile *****
Anton Bitel ****


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