The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Grizzly Man

A mess of a movie about a mess of a man. Werner Herzog sifted through hundreds of hours of footage shot by Timothy Treadwell, a fanatical devotee of the Alaskan grizzly bear. Treadwell spent 13 summers in the back country of Alaska, gradually growing more convinced that he understood and had a rapport with the local grizzlies.

The movie does not leave it as a shock that Treadwell ended up being savagely attacked and eaten by a grizzly, since the story was well reported at the time. The press liked the sensationalism of the fact that Treadwell caught the entire attack and death of himself and his girlfriend on audiotape. Herzog liked the fact that Treadwell was almost as monomaniacal as the great director. I’m no psychiatrist, but the words “paranoid szichophrenic with megalomania and a messiah complex” spring to mind when watching Treadwell’s relentless videotaping of his thoughts and adventures (often staged and restaged for an imaginary documentary he would never assemble).

Herzog is overly generous in referring to Treadwell as a filmmaker, since the guy really just turned on cameras whenever it suited him. Watching the footage is quite nauseating at times from the jerky, swaying handheld shots. Of course Herzog can’t help but interject himself into the film, since calm objectivity is not one of his bigger traits. Instead we see shots of him listening emotionally to the tape of the attack and then offering advice and counseling to an ex-girlfriend of Treadwell’s. Herzog also gives us his interpretation of the true nature of the bears and Treadwell towards the end of the film. But the movie jumps around in time and place, jamming together bits of interviews and Treadwell film with only Herzog’s narration to tie it all together.

The movie is strangely compelling because of the sheer intensity of Treadwell’s convictions and his propensity for spewing his thoughts and emotions onto tape. But I felt ultimately empty when it was all over. This was a guy headed for a certain fate that caught up with him in an entirely predictable manner. Nobody was changed by the experience and the world continues on its regular path.

There is a lot of talk in the film about conservation, the encroachment of civilization on nature, and the fragility of the bears’ existence – but they are peripheral sound bites and there is never a shred of evidential footage to support any of the claims. The worst that Treadwell can find is a small boat of fishermen who find a full size grizzly approaching them on shore and start throwing rocks towards the bear to frighten it off. Treadwell is decimated by having to watch the experience, which he seems to find a horrendous one for the bear. Mind you, the bear seems completely unperturbed by the whole thing. Treadwell keeps talking about how each season he has once again “protected the bears”, but even in this one case of direct contact, he stays completely hidden and ineffectual. Some protection.

Nice shots of grizzlies and foxes up close in the Alaskan wilderness. Parents should be cautioned by the obvious subject matter of death by wild animal and the fact that Treadwell swears like a longshoreman throughout his footage (when he isn’t professing his love for all of nature or presenting cute bear facts to elementary school children... an interesting dual nature).

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