• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:January 24, 2021

Grizzly Man: Blinded by Love


Canadian naturalist Charles Russell wasn’t too happy about Werner Herzog’s depiction of his friend Timothy Treadwell, a documentary filmmaker and bear enthusiast who was killed in 2003 by an unusually aggressive and hungry grizzly bear. Russell wrote, “Most people now see [Treadwell] only the way Herzog skillfully wanted his audience to see him; as an idiot who continually ‘crossed natureā€™s line’, what ever that means. He takes everything Timothy stood for and turned it 180Ā°, the result which he then weaves into his own unsophisticated agenda.”

Russell obviously wanted to protect Treadwell’s reputation, but this film is not at all as black-and-white as Russell would have us believe.

A not entirely balanced human being
Herzog is a great filmmaker, regardless of whether he’s producing fiction or documentaries. Most of his fans recall My Best Fiend (1999), the film he made about Klaus Kinski, the actor who appeared in several of his films, a larger-than-life personality who almost drove Herzog crazy with his out-of-whack behavior. Grizzly Man is reminiscent of that film as it portrays an equally colorful and not entirely balanced human being; in the movie, Herzog (who is also the narrator) even remarks on Treadwell’s similarity to Klaus Kinski. By the time of his death, Timothy Treadwell had achieved national recognition as a person who spent his summers up in Alaska in what he called the Grizzly Maze. Over the years he had learned how to be close to and respect grizzly bears and shot several videos of his encounters with them. He also traveled around the country and showed these videos to school kids. He never charged the schools anything; all he wanted was to spread his knowledge to younger generations.

Treadwell was a controversial figure; some said he was getting too close to the animals, not respecting the fact that they were wild. When he and his then-girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and partially eaten by a bear, few people seemed to be surprised.

A rich portrait
Herzog shows a lot of Treadwell’s own footage from his years together with the bears, including material that shows the grizzly man’s thoughts when he was all alone in the wilderness. The portrait is rich; Treadwell seemed to be a person who was proud of his achievements (he had beaten a drug addiction) and his love of the animals was tremendous, but it also blinded him. He had an unfortunate tendency to treat them as cute pets (even naming one of the bears Mr. Chocolate) and was very sad whenever nature proved to him that it is neither good nor bad, just rational. His appearance in the films gave a childlike impression; his surfer looks, high-pitched voice and optimistic approach added to it.

But Grizzly Man also shows Treadwell as a more complex figure. Herzog interviews several people who were close to him, including a former girlfriend who still has the audio recording of the bear attacking Treadwell and Huguenard (she has never listened to it and Herzog urges her to destroy it). These people give us an idea of the Treadwell Charles Russell knew. But there’s also the fact that the Huguenard family refused to participate and one can’t help but wonder why Huguenard stayed with her boyfriend even though she apparently was afraid of the bears and had fallen out of love with him.

It’s easy to see why Herzog became fascinated with this story. It is also obvious that he has become engrossed in the freakish aspects of Treadwell’s death, constantly returning to those details. But this is nevertheless a documentary that teaches us lessons about man’s place on this earth.

Grizzly ManĀ 2005-U.S. 103 min. Color.Ā Produced byĀ Erik Nelson.Ā Written and directed byĀ Werner Herzog.

Trivia: One scene in the theatrical release was cut from the DVD where David Letterman had Treadwell as a guest on Late Night and asked him if one day we would read in the papers that a bear had killed him.Ā 

Last word: “Sometimes these characters that I love stumble across me, across my life. Erik Nelson, who produces programs for Discovery and National Geographic ā€“ he’s got this messy table with papers and videos and books on it strewn about it. And I was looking into my pockets and in ā€“ everywhere because I had misplaced my reading glasses. And I’m looking down at the table vaguely, but he believes that I spotted something in particular, and shoves over an article on Timothy Treadwell and says, ‘Read this.’ So I read it and immediately hurried back to his office, and I asked, ‘Who is directing it?’ And he said, ‘I’m kind of directing it.’ And there was some sort of hesitation, and with my thick German accent I said, ‘No, I will direct this movie.’ And that was it. We shook hands and I made it.” (Herzog, NPR)



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