Grizzly Man

25 Mar

Director: Werner Herzog (2005)

Oh Werner. With a voice like that, how on earth have you managed to make your name as one of the most profound documentary makers of the 21st century? And how have you managed to never play a Bond villain? In all seriousness, poor Werner get’s a lot of stick for his thick set German accent and so it pains me to have begun my review in such a standard way, but I defend my reasoning with the claim that it is these almost musical tones that make me fall in love with this man as much as I do with these documentaries.
Grizzly Man chronicles the life and work of Timothy Treadwell, a man so obsessed and dedicated to the grizzly bear that he spends the best part of each year living with them in Alaska, the aptly titled ‘Grizzly Maze’ in the Katmai National Park and Preserve. Why? Because Timothy Treadwell is perhaps the most enthusiastic and committed (possible committable) fighting the threats from poachers, not only by living amongst them but also in singlehandedly – and for no charge – spreading the word and educating children around the USA in the ways of the bear.
But this doesn’t stop us from asking the question ‘is this chap completely mad?’ It seems the only reasonable explanation as to why a person would choose to have himself planted in the middle of the nowhere for months at a time, knowing that every moment his life hangs on the edge in the presence of these essentially vicious wild animals. Perhaps this is a reductive way of looking at things, considering how Timothy clearly believes these animals are misunderstood and it is this lack of knowledge about grizzly bears that endangers them. Except that despite Timothy’s expert knowledge and personal relationship with these animals including giving them all names – in 2003, Timothy was brutally killed by his beloved grizzly bears. Along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard.
Herzog speaks with many people involved in the vicious attack from the pilot who dropped them off for their summer adventure and later returned to an empty beach on the day he was due to collect them to the coroner who pieced together (literally) their dismembered bodies. The film is intercut with these talking heads with real footage Timothy filmed throughout his summers, interacting, talking and playing with the bears with such joy it is almost heartbreaking to think that it was these creatures that ended him. But, speaking with one of his friends, and former lover, Jewel Palovak, she explains that Timothy would rather die at the hands of these creatures than see them hurt. One of the most powerful moments is where Herzog reveals that when the incident happened, the camera was still rolling, thankfully with the lens cap on, but capturing the gruesome final moments in terrifying audio. The film shows Jewel watching Herzog listening to the tape. Taking off the headphones, he orders her to never ever listen to the tape, in fact, she should destroy it.
Grizzly Man is an incredibly powerful documentary, offering another more sympathetic side to the usual ‘he’s a mental what did he expect’ response to these kinds of incidents. Yes it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been acting as he did but the matter is, it did happen and instead of chastising him as another crazy eccentric who got what he deserved, Herzog wants to remember Timothy’s legacy and honour the understanding of these animals we will never understand. Just like we will never know what happened in those final moments on that tape. Unlike Herzog.

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