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.