Timothy Treadwell was an infuriating man. Determined to spend as much time as possible living amongst the grizzly bears of Alaska he filmed hours and hours of footage of his ‘work’ which consists of living with and being close to the bears. On the 6th October 2003 Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed by one of the bears he cared so passionately about. Werner Herzog has pared down the footage shot by Treadwell, added in some interviews and comments and presented a quite extraordinary documentary in Grizzly Man. What Herzog succeeds in doing is quite remarkable, where I went into the film expecting only to dislike Treadwell because of his frustrating desire to be close to a wild animal that doesn’t want him there, the finished film managed to present a depth of view that I wasn’t expecting. Yes, Timothy Treadwell was in many ways deluded about his actions and their impact. Yes, he obliterated his girlfriend from the footage to make it appear as if he was alone. But Herzog explores the question ‘Why?’ He uncovers the story of a man who repeatedly failed in his endeavours and sought to recreate himself on more than one occasion.
It is a complex journey, Herzog clearly admires Treadwell’s footage and his bravery but he also knows that the man is deluded and confused. He isn’t helping these bears as much as he is helping himself to feel as if he belongs as though he is contributing. It is difficult to view this as anything other than a false fight that Treadwell has set up to enable him to see himself as a lone hero.
Whatever your view – this sad story is fascinating and upsetting. The description from the coroner of Treadwell’s final moments is grisly, and in its own way heroic. But you won’t be able to shake the feeling that it was also, ultimately, avoidable. Grizzly Man is a superb documentary and a fascinating account of someone who failed to find a voice in the human world until he crossed the boundaries into the animal world.