Into the Grizzly Man (POST BUMPED)

I bumped this post for two reasons. First, because I’m getting retro comments and they’re quite interesting. The second reason is because since having finished the film (I wrote this post hours after it was over) my thoughts and opinion has changed. I thought about this movie so much, I think I may have even changed my mind about it.

Also, I want to know more about Herzog. That said, if anyone has anything they’d like to add, do so in the comments section below. If not, at least read Haly’s review, it’s worth it.

Original post begins now.

This weekend, I watched Grizzly Man directed by Werner Herzog. The film is disturbing, but not for reasons one might initially assume. It’s not disturbing because Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amy, were attacked and eaten by a grizzly bear. That part isn’t disturbing because the viewer doesn’t actually see them being attacked and eaten by a grizzly bear. In fact, the only record they have of the attack exists on an audio tape. However, at one point, Herzog is filmed listening to the tape on a pair of headphones. Judging by his reaction, and the fact that I can’t handle violence of any kind, I’m very grateful for being spared this gory detail. That said, the part that one assume will be the most disturbing is gracefully implicit, which is probably the most graceful part of the entire film.

That’s not to say that there isn’t something inherently disturbing about the film. The part I found most disturbing was how mentally unstable Timothy Treadwell was and the fact that he was unable to get the help he needed in order to live a long(er) life. His antics, such as the way he goes off on camera or the way in which interferes with nature (At one point, Timothy actually reroutes a stream so that fish can freely move thereby letting the grizzlies stand a better chance at food.) are truly hard to watch. You might blush (as I did), you might turn away in horror, or you might just laugh at him. It’s haunting to watch a person act that way.

Timothy Treadwell was delusional and I couldn’t help but wonder if a simple dose of medication could have saved him. He talked to God through a camera and believed wholeheartedly that he had the power to direct nature. At one point, Timothy bent down to stroke a massive pile of feces left by one of his beloved bears. He thanked the bear as he believed it was a gift left there specifically for him. His story might very well be heartbreaking, but I am not sure I saw that story watching Herzog’s film.

About three months ago, I finally picked up Into the Wild by Jon Krackauer. I wrote about that book and how it made me feel at the time. Although the intense feelings I had after reading Christopher McCandless’s story have all but faded now, I couldn’t help but think about him while I watched Grizzly Man.

Christopher was someone to whom I could relate. I understand why he did the things he did. I understand his desire to live outside society. I understand his quest to live entirely off the land. I understand his searches and how he came to finally die. And while his story sparked hundreds to write hate mail, I guess you might say I am a sympathizer. Ultimately, I wish he were alive today so I could ask him a few questions. Krakauer’s knack for storytelling made me mistakenly feel that I really knew this person. (It’s too bad Krackauer doesn’t direct films.)

With Grizzly Man, the relationship between Herzog (the director) and his subject (Timothy Treadwell), was a bit different. While I am unfamiliar with Herzog’s vast amount of work, I can’t help but hold him accountable for what I didn’t take away from this film. Timothy Treadwell seemed foreign and weird to me. He seemed like someone the director might like to make fun of, to gawk at, to judge. Treadwell’s journey into the wild and his passion behind saving grizzly bears was shown as a treacherous side road deviating from a clearer direction. Timothy Treadwell needed help. Timothy Treadwell should have been led to help. Herzog’s movie seemed to carelessly exploit his death.

Grizzly Man is worth seeing, but unlike Christopher McCandless’s story, I didn’t walk away from Timothy’s feeling very much compassion or understanding. Christopher’s story and what he was trying to attain, will haunt me for a long, long time. But I blame Mr. Herzog for my lack of compassion toward Timothy Treadwell. I wish the footage had been purchased by someone else.

Grizzly Man: Good movie, wrong director.

36 Comments

  1. Well said as usual Mihow! I saw this movie a few months ago and it really disturbed me, but not in the ways I expected it would. Among other things, I was mostly angered by Treadwell’s “friends”, and couldn’t understand how anyone could let such an unstable man do such a dangerous thing, year after year. I agree that he was exploited throughout his life and in death as well. Very sad story indeed.

    Reply

  2. the guy was obviously disturbed and delusional about many things, his purpose, his place, his sexuality, his feelings, his importance as a human and as a protector of the bears! i’m actually glad that the movie was made the way it was, neither for treadwell’s cause or against his insanity. it showed him pretty much as him i’m guessing….one messed up guy. you actually feel so sorry for him, alive or dead.

    when he saw the little bumble bee and he lost his composure, that’s when i knew he had no business being in the woods! when someone can’t accept death in life, especially in the natural world, they just don’t get it. his perception of what was natural and manufactured was flip flopped….bears don’t need protecting they need space where people aren’t and out there they can be monitored and protected from a far…..what he achieved was the exact opposite of his intention!

    on the other hand, from treadwell’s footage, i got the impression he knew it would happen and that was the only place on earth that “seemed” to accept him and if it happened, so be it. but who knows

    Reply

  3. Did you at all get frustrated with the footage Herzog took and chose to show? I was annoyed with how little he showed of Treadwell’s family. And the stuff he did show came off as slightly judgmental, like the director had an idea of what he wanted to viewer to take away. I dunno if that makes any sense at all. It just seemed to me like he did with the film exactly what he outwardly scolded Treadwell for in nature. He interfered with the footage, the story, interjecting his thoughts on top. (I kinda took that idea from Tobyjoe. He initially pointed that out. I am not sure if it particularly bothered Toby, but it most certainly bothered me.)

    Reply

  4. since we can’t see the footage that isn’t presented, i’d have to say it was wierd, that’s for sure, but…did it bother me? that’s what directors do. i don’t know this herzog guy but it was obvious to me that this movie was about treadwell, not about treadwells cause and he allowed treadwell to present himself. and yes he presented himself as a loon at times(most of the time). what upset me more than the arraingment of clips were the clips themselves. i could not see how you could edit this crazed stuff out unless you’re selling treadwells myth, herzog obviously was not but he also wasn’t sugar coating the delusion either. the movie is more of a persons biography from footage treadwell made himself. take out the crazy parts and i would still think he was delusional and above all, an idiot for putting those bears in hards way no matter what his cause was. herzog actually, for me, showed truth in treadwells world view, his self-hatered, his paranoia, his depression and moodswings, etc etc….i think it’s a good representation of the man, i don’t think the movie was trying to help his cause and i’m glad for that.

    (an aside…there’s a great spoof out there on the internet…i cried i was laughing so hard)

    Reply

  5. At the same time, Herzog really does weasel his way into the film more so than other documentary filmmakers. Which isn’t to say it’s wrong, but it definitely isn’t for me. I find and found it rather arrogant. Again, that’s entirely an opinion.

    However, what did frustrate me, assuming Herzog meant what he said when he pointed out the fact that Treadwell shouldn’t have interfered with nature, was that he did very much the same thing in making the documentary. He interfered with the footage, making comments about Treadwell and what he may have been feeling/thinking or how he acted in nature.

    I would like to give the same negative critique about Herzog’s directing style.

    I need to see more of the 100 billion films he directed, however. :]

    Reply

  6. I heart the Herzog…a lot.

    Similiar to your issues, he is often critized (sometimes justly) for manipulating his actors, the non-actors he uses, or representations of individuals in documentaries to fulfill his obsessive (and self-reflexive) vision of the ultimate Outsider.

    I, however, am a sucker for New German filmmakers, especially Herzog.

    But ultimately, what I have learned from Grizzly Man is that is it possible to befriend foxes. My new life mission is to live with the foxes. Until they give me rabies and you can watch my slow demise in Herzog’s next film, Foxy Lady.

    Reply

  7. Nico, what else whould I watch? Tobyjoe suggested several and I’m curious to see if your suggestions overlap at all.

    Also, regarding the fox situation, that made my day. Seeing that silly little guy all squinty-eyed as Treadwell stroked him, was incredible. Also, did you know foxes stole baseball hats? I had no idea! I want a fox to steal my baseball hat!

    P.S. check is in the mail tomorrow, fyi. :]

    Reply

  8. Herzog is pretty prolific. I haven’t seen them all, and I’ve seen more of the earlier fiction films than the newer documentaries.

    Try these:

    -Stroszek
    -The Engima of Kaspar Hauser
    -Fitzcarraldo, then watch the documentary My Best Fiend about Klaus Kinski.

    There is also a documentary by another director about Herzog, his craziness and the making of Fitzcarraldo, but I haven’t seen it.

    Because I can watch Klaus Kinski in anything, I like Nosferatu, but since it is a frame-for-frame recreation of the original silent film it can seem a little silly at times.

    Keep in mind that none of these are sunshine and lollypops.

    And thank you for le cheque.

    Reply

  9. nico – did you read kinski’s book?

    it’s nuts.

    Reply

  10. His autobigraphy? I haven’t, but heard it was totally wacky. Do you have it?

    Reply

  11. No longer, no. Loaned it out, I think. You should check it out, though.

    Reply

  12. I feel sick to my stomach when I think about this poor guy. I know that he believed he was doing what was right, that he was doing good. I’m so horrified at the way that he died, even though I always felt it was inevitable.

    I sort of hope that he lived the way he wanted to live, and maybe he really did do some good. That thought at least seems to make his death more palatable.

    Reply

  13. i was sad they shot the bear that ate him.
    he didnt even get to be bear poop.
    which is what i thought he wanted all along.

    Reply

  14. Yes! I got the same impression – that he did want to be bear poop. Like he couldn’t imagine a more religious and fulfilling experience than being devoured (absorbed) by a bear and then pooped out (released).

    I agree with Nico. I heart Herzog too. Like she said – he is known for being a control freak and ego-maniac. So, that said – for sure he manipulated the film. I particularly thought the weird coroner who seemed to be “acting” was very strange.

    I was fascinated by this film – I watched it several times. I like the voyeuristic quality of it and I couldn’t get enough of Mr. Treadwells antics. I guess I enjoyed the exploitative -ness of it. Is that so wrong?

    Reply

  15. The strange thing is, the more and more removed I am from actually watching this film, the more and more I think I actually liked it. Although, I didn’t necessarily NOT like it when I first wrote the post, but I do feel the need to clarify as much.

    Also, Nora, I totally agree with you about the Coroner. I also thought the weird watch exchange was oddly forced, too. It made me uneasy.

    I’m just realizing this right now, but I bet if I were to see more of Herzog’s films and then return to this one, I’ll end up loving Grizzly Man. I bet that’s because I’ll also understand Herzog better. Does that make sense?

    Reply

  16. i’m going to have to repost a review jon made of the movie for you:

    shi10
    Jan 30th 2006

    the point, regardless of Verner’s intentions (which he verbalized cautiously as something along the lines of “he’s a modern day tragic figure the likes of hamlet”, but which i suspect (also that Verner’s totally aware of this) to be a little further along that trainwreck of thought.. in “this guy is a complete fucking lunatic.. ” territory), is that treadwell’s footage, at least, is ‘reality entertainment’. it may be sensationalist due to the subject matter/the fact he got eaten. and verner’s own interviews were blantantly skewed.. (i believe there was strong intent on his part to portray everything in as twisted a light as possible.) i’d like to say this wasn’t even remotely powerful, moving, cerebral cinema at it’s best.. just the exploitive and macabre abortion from some overrated german lunatic..

    however, it lays bare (PUN!) the depth of one man’s ability to (seemingly) remain UTTERLY FUCKING CLUELESS in the face of what many would instantly see as madness. and the best part is, that finally, the man basically admits that he doesn’t care.. that he wants to die, and does. and it’s all real. one man’s journey to the realization that he’s just not made for life, and subsequent solution.

    so although he may’ve been weak and mentally/emotionally ill, he (and the film) represented something larger than ‘moron plays with bears’. although it was maybe an extreme, sensationalistic case, he’s a member of our species. and i think his condition represents something significant. it’s a question of perspective and scale, in my mind.. does anyone really want to live anymore?

    what is there for the naked ape, really, when it’s all said and done? when ‘life’ consists of receiving sensory input and reacting to it.. when that’s over, so what?

    i imagine most people lack the imagination and perhaps the balls to say to themselves ‘gee.. it’s ok to play with bears!’ to be relieved of the burden of the choice to continue their adequate life of perpetuation of the same old same old. they either find some way to keep themselves convinced that there’s more than some sort of subjective significance to their existance, or they occupy themselves, only (consciously or otherwise) considering their subjective frame of reference, knowing that little else can be justified. sitting around, talking about what’s on tv, or that hot new band, or what great new [insert product here] there is. passively, as opposed to actively, condemning themselves to an inevitably tragic end.

    and it does my heart good to see that justice, in the true sense, does indeed exist.

    Reply

  17. also, we have the two herzog DVD boxsets if you guys want to borrow itâ

    Reply

  18. We quit netfix because they’re having sex with Wal Mart.

    Reply

  19. That’s quite a review. I think I might bump this here post to the top of my site. I like the retro comments being left and my mind has been changed over time.

    Reply

  20. i agree with nico’s suggestions for viewing:

    strozscek
    enigma of kasper hauser
    fitzcarraldo
    my best fiend

    burden of dreams is the documentary on the filming of fitzcarraldo, which is a must-see. apparently, the commentary with herzog is even better/funnier but i’ve yet to see it.

    i can’t help but chuckle nowadays when i hear herzog’s narration because of the herzog “Dear Diary” site:
    http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/spoofs_satire/be_not_afraid.php

    Reply

  21. Haly, wanna have a movie night? I’ll bring the goodies!

    Reply

  22. CHILD: Why do I have to give Michael back his hat?
    HERZOG: Because it is his. Give it to him.
    CHILD: But itâ

    Reply

  23. Mihow: Do you happen to own an ice cream maker?

    Reply

  24. haly: I’m afraid not, Mihow. But I do have a wafflemaker!

    Reply

  25. whoops, jon just reminded me that he has to help a friend with an apartment move on friday. saturday we’re gonna try to catch the new matthew barney movie. sunday?

    Reply

  26. mihow: works for me. I’ll have to check with the Tobyjoseph.

    Reply

  27. oops! no, I have a shower that day. No DC either because of the shower.

    It’s for a cousin. she’s sweet. I keep forgetting about the shower. :[

    Reply

  28. I showered with a cousin once. Though it was not a cousin, it was Kinski. The shower was cold and sterile.

    Reply

  29. I should have killed you when I had the chance.

    I should have killed you when i was living.

    Reply

  30. we mustn’t kill! only the vilest animals kill! we mustn’t be like animals!!

    Reply

  31. Even dead to me you are a friend. And for that I fear you.

    Reply

  32. I love you.

    I love you.

    No, no noooooooooooooooooo

    I love you.

    I love you.

    Oh. Oh. So sad. So sad.

    I love you.

    Reply

  33. Get away from me, freakshow!

    Reply

  34. If that bear didn’t eachya. I’da killed yer stupid ass.

    Reply

  35. So much for continuing a healthy discussion about Herzog! ;]

    I love you freaking people. You bring me joy.

    Reply

  36. I terrified my kids by telling them that there were bears in our back yard at night. big ones.

    Reply

Leave a Reply