Let me first admit that I have never seen a Werner Herzog film before. It seems that the more films I watch the more that appear that I have not seen, more directors yet to be discovered. Grizzly Man is an interesting combination of Herzog's director's eye and subject, Timothy Treadwell's vast amounts of footage.
The documentary focuses on the life and death of Treadwell. For those of you who don't know, Treadwell spent 13 summers living with the wild grizzly bears in a remote part of Alaska. During his last five years he took video cameras with him and shot somewhere in the vicinity of 100 hours of footage. The footage ranges from bear watching, to Treadwell giving speeches to the camera, to the acting out of scenes as if he was directing himself in a feature. The expeditions came to an abrupt end in the fall of 2003 when he and his girlfriend, Amie, are attacked, killed, and eaten by one of the bears he was so steadfast in defending.
Herzog deftly assembled this footage creating a narrative structure allowing the viewer to gain a glimpse into the man, the self styled celebrity. Blended in with the original footage are interviews with friends and family. We watch as these friends paint a picture of a loving man who was fiercely dedicated to what he was doing. We watch as Treadwell, himself, professes his love for these wild animals.
He has names for all of them, he treats them almost as if they are people in bear suits. He crosses that line between the world of the humans and the world of the bears, and that may have led to his ultimate undoing. But this film isn't about romanticizing Treadwell's life or sentimentalizing the bears, nor is it about choosing sides. What it appears to be doing is just giving us an insight into a man who seems to be drowning in his own desire to become one with the bears.
The footage that Treadwell shot was amazing. I tend to think he was a bit more manic than logical, but watching him interact with the wildlife was mesmerizing. If nothing else, Timothy Treadwell is a charismatic screen presence. You can't help but watch the Prince Valiant haircut, listen to the phony accent and be drawn into his world. I cannot say that I agree with what he was doing, nor can I say that he was going about it the right way, but you have to admire his heart. He believed that he was doing good, acting as the defender of the bears.