Back to Basics
Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man shows that man can never fully return to the natural world.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
For those of us who love the outdoors, the natural world is a sanctuary, a place to strip off all the unnecessary trappings of modern society. In our cubicles and cramped apartments, we hang photos and calendars displaying beautiful natural scenes to transport our minds from the artificial spiderwebs of modern civilization—annoyances like traffic jams and bills. Sometimes, we think that if things get really bad we can just head out into the mountains and return to our roots as members of the natural world. Unfortunately, there is one major problem with this desire: the natural world no longer wants us.
GRIZZLY MAN ( * * * ½ )
Directed by Werner Herzog
(R, 103 mins.) | At the Osio Cinemas
Like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s fascinating book Into the Wild, Timothy Treadwell was an outsider who thought he had finally found his place in the world when he ventured into an extreme portion of nature. While McCandless was nourished by attempting foolhardy expeditions—like heading down the Colorado River alone in a canoe—Treadwell finds a purpose for his life by filming the wild grizzly bears of Alaska up close and personal, which he hoped would spur viewers of his footage to help conserve the species.
In Werner Herzog’s documentary, Grizzly Man, the acclaimed filmmaker primarily uses footage that Treadwell shot during his summers spent in the Alaskan wilderness to tell the story of a troubled man who was eventually killed—along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard—by the objects of his affection. Despite the fact that Treadwell, an amateur grizzly scholar who gave the wild animals cutesy names like Mr. Chocolate, shot hours of amazing film including a segment where the creatures fight like sumo wrestlers just a few feet away, Herzog uses the footage to create a fascinating character study of Treadwell.
In Grizzly Man, some of the scenes Herzog utilizes are unintentionally humorous—like one in which Treadwell goes on an expletive laden tirade against the national park system. Other portions of the documentary are transfixing yet cringe-inducing, including a scene in which Treadwell wonders aloud in front of the camera why he is not more successful with females. At times, watching the film seems like a kind of voyeurism where we get to see a man stripped down and emotionally naked.
In addition to witnessing lots of footage Treadwell shot of himself and the bears, Herzog also interviews key players in the grizzly lover’s life, including his parents and his former girlfriend Jewel Palovak. He also talks with less sympathetic individuals, like an Alaskan rescue worker who says that the naïve naturalist ultimately got what he deserved.
Though Herzog tastefully refrains from using found audio footage of Treadwell and Huguenard’s last minutes, Treadwell’s eventual death hovers over the entire documentary like a black cloud of Alaskan flies.