03/17/06 10:24 PM
Werner Herzog is such a singular director. Although I haven’t seen a lot of his work, I think I can safely say that obsession of the human spirit seems to be one of the themes he most likes to cover (be it a straight film or a documentary). Grizzly Man is certainly no exception, and it turned out to be one of the more engrossing films that I’ve seen in some time.
Basically, the film is a documentary about the life of one Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent his summers living with grizzly bears on the Alaskan peninsula for 13 years. Late one summer, he and his girlfriend were killed by one of the bears, but Treadwell left behind roughly 100 hours of film from his excursions, including everything from on-screen contemplations about wildlife to wild-eyed rants about the forest service. Oh yeah, and he also shot some rather astounding footage of the animals themselves.
There’s no question that Treadwell is a flawed character and that his actual work was questionable at best. He talks about doing research, but we never see any concrete evidence of any. He speaks of protecting the bears from different outside forces, but one could argue that he actually hurt them by living amongst them and letting them grow accustomed to a human presence. If anything, the most important thing that he actually did was spread awareness of the bears themselves, and hopefully because of that people will think twice if their habitat comes under attack from different interests.
In the above regard, I can see how it would be easy for someone to get hung up on his misguided nature and miss out on what is truly one of the more fascinating character studies that I’ve seen in a long time. Whether it’s reading a Studs Terkel book or hearing about people like Christopher McCandless, I’ve always felt that real life always seems to trump fiction most of the time. Treadwell is a fascinating person, and whether you agree with his philosophies or not, all his good points and flaws are laid bare in the film.
Herzog narrates the film, and while he sometimes made unexpected entries into the film to expouse on personal reflections, it wasn’t something that bothered me. His thinly-veiled reference to working with Klaus Kinski made me smile a bit as he added his careful words with his heavy German accent. A completely unique film about a man obsessed, this one made me laugh at times and even got to me a bit at times. Highly recommended.