Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review: Grizzy Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

Grizzly Man is a tragic, but emotionally absent documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a peculiar man who devoted his life living amongst the wild Grizzly Bears in Alaska. To fuel his own wild instincts and document his love for this animal, his self-assigned mission each Summer was to befriend the bears, allow them to acclimate to his presence, and then act, in his mind, as a means of protection against poachers. Almost totally free of bias, this tale of madness and obsession is directed by renowned guerrilla filmmaker Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and Rescue Dawn). After 13 years surviving the wilderness Timothy and his girlfriend at the time, are ultimately mauled and eaten by the animal he has sworn and devoted his life to protect. Over one hundred of hours of footage taken by Treadwell was discovered and used throughout the documentary. Werner also interviews lovers, friends and associates of Treadwell and re-examines the reports made following his death, and these are integrated into the actual footage. Werner's narration also carries us throughout the film, with him offering information about what we are witnessing in Treadwell's captures but also his own opinion of the stunning images that touch so close to his passion of capturing human destruction at the hands of nature. This is a theme that he has addressed in many of his films.

Some of the captures are absolutely stunning, where we see Treadwell crouching in the grass and allowing the bears to come up close to him, mostly out of curiosity, but also out of recognition that he didn't pose as a threat. While we are never convinced that he befriended the bears, we do see that he knew how to keep them from attacking him, and had a means to communicate with them at times. But with some of the other creatures he comes across there is a sense that he formed quite a bond with them, notably the cute foxes that a lot of footage is devoted to. Treadwell had names for all the bears and could distinguish between them and recognize them on subsequent returns. But his mental state, as is indicated through the self narration of his captures, was not in tune with our reality. It is said that much of his fame came when he was back at home lecturing about his adventures and creating awareness of their endangerment in schools.

We never see footage of these lectures so apart from the accounts of friends and associates, we are never convinced that this charming brilliance to educate existed. All we see are his obsessive videos directing wild, child-like, delusional behavior toward these extremely dangerous beasts. Sure, his lengthy isolation would have transformed him into a very different person but as a viewer we gather, much like Werner does, that his quest did not really make any difference to the existence of the bears. He documents them in captivity, but his juvenile rants about their beauty are also annoying and deter our attention from his spectacular surroundings. But the film just presents what he captured, and rarely judges his personality. It's a really tragic story, with the final minutes of the film being the last takes Treadwell made before his death. He was a man that had devoted his life to the grizzly bear, and his quest came at the ultimate price. It's a very interesting film, but it is never really captivating and the footage is often quite repetitive. But it certainly makes you aware of the lengths that some human beings are willing to go, to fulfill their dreams and live their passions.

My Rating: 3 Stars

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