Movie Poster
Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog
103 min.


Let me start by saying that Timothy Treadwell was obviously a smart man. Without that he would have died much earlier. That he was probably psychologically unbalanced is eminently apparent in his wealth of footage. What is truly fascinating is how little his psychological state has to do with his chosen lifestyle. For all his observations on the inherent cruelty of Nature, this is most profoundly, as Herzog mentions, about human nature. It is about the life performed.

Timothy Treadwell spent thirteen summers living in the Alaskan wilderness among a group of grizzly bears. His stated mission, stated and restated innumerable times, was to protect the bears. Every summer a small plane would drop him in the same place with a tent, some bear-proof barrels of food, a video camera and, every once in a while, a girlfriend. He would then spend the whole season living amongst the bears and meticulously filming them. Only he wasn't really filming the bears. The footage he captured of them was astonishing - beatiful and intimate - but was ultimately just subplot within the evidence he was constructing of his own life.

Treadwell shot hundreds of hours of video over the years. Much of it features Treadwell explaining himself to the camera. Herzog acknoledges the "confessional" relationship to the camera, but it seems to go deeper than that. There are scenes in which Treadwell uses the camera as a silent captive audience which he can tell about his troubles with women and with alcohol. It leads to the eerie feeling, during the movie, that he is talking to you. Treadwell was always talking to a hypothetical audience, unaware that it would posthumously be played for a real audience.

The situation - alone for months with only a camera (and bears) to listen - leads to some almost uncomfortably personal revelations. More telling, about Treadwell and indeed about ourselves, are the scenes in which Treadwell without introspection does what he is doing. They amount to inelaborate, almost obsessive justifications and show that even when he is just living his life, he is doing it for the camera. What is remarkable is how we can recognize ourselves in this. Treadwell's camera simply makes explicit our relationship with the grand, impersonal Other.

Grizzly Man is about life as demonstration versus life as action. That Timothy Treadwell makes this split a little more dramatic than the rest of us can be attributed to the fact that he was a failed actor (his father alleges he was second to Woody Harrelson for the part in Cheers). There is no utilitarian purpose for anything anyone does, it is performance.

This all stems out of Herzog's notions about nature. The cruelty of nature is that it is without feeling, without meaning; the desparation of people is the need to assign meaning, to experience feeling. Grizzly Man is about the way people deal with the world, the way people deal with their unimportance: by making everything a big deal. The film is about Timothy Treadwell. It is about his compulsion to demonstrate his life rather than to live it. It is about Timothy Treadwell. And that he is us.

Grizzly Man is a great movie. And when you come out make sure you smile extra big so no one can see that you're lying.

Pat Jackson