Thoughts on Grizzly Man

So, I finally had a chance to watch Grizzly Man over the weekend. You might recall that it’s the critically acclaimed documentary by Warner Herzog that has gotten a lot of press over the past year or so.

The film, which is nominated for an Oscar, tells the true story of Timothy Treadwell, the man who dedicated 13 years of his life to living with grizzly bears in Alaska before he, along with his girlfriend, was brutally killed and eaten by a bear in 2003.

The movie uses video footage that Treadwell shot himself as he lived amongst the bears for 4 months out of the year. That footage shows a man dedicated to his cause, namely protecting the bears and educating the public about the animals. You can tell that Treadwell loved the creatures and developed a bond with them, at least in his own mind.

He was also adopted by a fox that followed him around like a dog would his master. Some of the footage is stunning, as Treadwell was able to get very close to the bears and other wildlife, surrounded by Alaska’s Katmai National Park’s amazing scenery.

Treadwell’s video footage showed a different side of the man as well. A darker, more detached side. He often talked to the bears like they were children, telling them he loved them. He often spoke of wishing he could become a bear and spoke of himself as a “kind warrior,” One scene even shows him going off on a rant about the park rangers and society in general, which demonstrated that he was a bit unbalanced at times as well.

Overall, I thought it was a well-done film. Treadwell was an interesting character who knew the dangers of what he was doing and spoke of it regularly, although you also got the sense that he thought the bears were his friends and that they wouldn’t hurt him. He was a bit simplistic in his approach to life and came across as a bit of a whack job, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was crazy or had a deathwish.

Herzog does an excellent job of showing us what Treadwell’s life was like as he lived in the Alaskan wilderness, and by the end of the film, you have a portrait of the man. However, I couldn’t help but wonder why Treadwell had decided to head out into the wilderness to be with the bears.

We never see the point in his life where he becomes consumed with helping them, nor do we get any insights into what drove him out there. Furthermore, Treadwell talks about “protecting” the bears and doing “his work,” but we never clearly see him protecting the bears from anything, despite the talk of poachers in the area.

We also never really get a sense of what his “work” is. He claims to be studying the bears, but he’s not a biologist of any kind, nor does he have any research and observation training in the field. After 13 years living with the bears, you would think that he had stacks and stacks of notebooks and research information, but aside from his video and still photographs, we don’t get any insight into this research

After watching the film, I was glad that I had taken the time to see it. It was a well-crafted movie from start to finish, and it deserves the critical acclaim that it has gotten.

However, I can’t help but wish for a little more insight into Treadwell’s character, learning more about what compelled him to live with these animals and drove him to return year after year. Clearly, he had demons and was looking to escape from life at times, but he was also a smart, driven man who loved the creatures that ultimately were his demise.

The DVD is available for purchase or rent, or watch for it on the Discovery Channel, who I’m sure will be replaying it to death over the coming weeks.