"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

DVD Review: Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a failed actor and ex-drug addict who lived among Alaska's grizzly bear population every summer for over a decade. At the end of his 13th visit he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a rogue bear. Over the years Treadwell had shot hundreds of hours of video for a planned wildlife documentary. Much of this footage is extraordinary, on par with the best professional wild life videography. A significant fraction, however, is made up of Treadwell speaking directly to the camera. This footage shows a man descending into madness and obsession.

This aspect gave me a painful insight into the person of Treadwell and his self-centered behavior. On tape he's presenting himself as the cool uncle daring to defy the ferocious carnivores grizzly bears, wearing bandannas and Rambo styled clothing. He keeps on telling his imaginary audience that his life is in danger, but that he has the capability to control the situation by his own knowledge of the bears.

At first I sympathized with this happy loony guy, who clearly loved his wild lifestyle and wanting to share it with a broad audience. But at a certain point, it becomes painfully clear that he's dangerously self-deceptive. He's justifying his presence amongst the bears as a way to protect them against poachers, multiple times saying that he'd be glad to be killed while protecting them. To contradict this, I see him sitting in a branch, watching a group of poachers is actually stoning a young cub. He doesn't do anything to step up against this hideous crime; he's just ranting about it to the camera.

And then it started to dawn on me that this man wasn't the nature preserving freak he claims to be, but an ex-addict using the wild nature as a way of experiencing the kicks that alcohol and/or drugs gave him in the past. His presence in the wild was a failure to cope with real life, and not the act of a strong individual really wanting to make a difference in the world. This men was mentally ill, very ill...

By selecting both the footage shot by Treadwell himself and by adding interviews and a reflecting monologue, director Werner Herzog does a good job trying to grasp the complex motives of this deranged man. He doesn't glorify this person as a hero, but he humanizes him by showing both his charming sides and dark sides. I saw a Timothy Treadwell that is loving, sensitive and really empathic with animals, but I also see a narcissistic man that is fully estranged by his own self-deceptive fantasies.

No comments: