March 03, 2006
A Grizzly Death: I review the documentary film "Grizzly Man"
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
In October 2003, a failed actor named Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amy Hugeuenard were killed and eaten by an Alaska brown bear, which was in turn killed by the people who went to clean up the mess. Treadwell, the self-styled “protector” of bears in a region of Katmai National Park, had lived with them for 13 years until finally the bears had enough of him.
In 2005, a German film director named Werner Herzog made a documentary on Treadwell’s life and death, and it ran on the Discovery Channel this past weekend. I’m reviewing it here because it’s a creepy and unforgettable 103 minutes. In his 13 summers with the bruins, Treadwell filmed them and himself, and much of the movie is of brown bears, and of Treadwell mouthing off to the camera about his relationship with them.
The brown bear footage is amazing, but Treadwell is the most dislikeable human being I have ever seen on film, and he was also stark raving crazy. Witness him fondling a moist, fresh bear turd and crooning with ecstasy, or weeping softly and muttering endearments to a bored red fox. Clearly, this is a guy who should have had a net thrown over him many years ago.
The film is also notable because it is impartial. Herzog does not lionize Treadwell; indeed, some of the people he interviews are highly unflattering to the late grizzly man. Perhaps Herzog’s own quote at the end of the film is the most damning:
“And what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.”
Don’t miss it.
Editor's Note: "Grizzly Man" aired on the Discovery Channel last weekend. We've checked their schedule and the show isn't in any future lineups until this summer. In the meantime, you can buy it on DVD from the Discovery Channel store here. We think it's worth it.