Directed by :........... Werner Herzog
Produced by :.......... Discovery Docs, Lions Gate Films
Written by :............. Werner Herzog
Narrated by :........... Werner Herzog
Starring :................. Timothy Treadwell, Werner Herzog
Music by :................. Richard Thompson
Cinematography :.... Peter Zeitlinger
Editing by :............... Joe Bini
Release date(s) :..... August 12, 2005
Running time :.......... 104 min.
Country :................... United States
Language :................ English
Subtitles :.................. Polish
While identification with a nave protagonist is a smokescreen for mediocre comedy in The 40 Year Old Virgin, in Werner Herzogs documentary masterpiece Grizzly Man (currently playing in Ann Arbor), the same identification brings revelation. In 1990, Timothy Treadwell, an out of work actor and recovering addict, left California in order to spend his summer living in the Alaskan wilderness among the grizzly bears. For thirteen summers, Treadwell lived in the same community of bears, learning about their habits and seeking to protect them from poachers. In October of 2003, while staying in the grizzly maze a few weeks beyond his usual departure date, a rogue grizzly devoured Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. Treadwell, having documented his summer forays into Alaska on videotape since 1998, had his camera rolling during the attack (with the lens cap on) and unwittingly recorded his own gristly death. Herzog was invited to review Treadwells footage and, enhancing it with his own interviews and footage, went on to create the film primarily from Treadwells images.
If Grizzly Man were simply a documentary built with found footage about a nave environmental advocate who died in the wild because he over estimated his personal connection to nature, the film would still be an extremely moving experience because of Treadwells passion for the bears, foxes, and the stunning landscape of the Alaskan wilderness. This is, however, a Werner Herzog film. Instead of relying on the traditional documentary form, there are dueling viewpoints at play in the film, and Herzog creates a powerful tension by pitting Treadwells innocent yet misunderstanding love of the natural world against the directors own recognition of the violent indifference of nature toward human empathy with it.
As with his series of recent documentary features, Herzog seems to be exploring ideas about the world that are at loggerheads with his own icy rationalism. What Grizzly Man (and Wheel of Time and The White Diamond before it) shows us about the world is not an objective representation of its subjects experience, but a battle taking place within Herzog himself as he seeks to reconcile his own fearful desire to embrace and harness natural beauty with his logical understanding of the folly in attempting to do so. In this way, Herzogs latest triptych of documentaries is a logical extension of his work as a fiction filmmaker. In films like Aguirre: Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, Herzog exposed the ludicrous expectations of the colonial project and its misapplication of rational ideals. Sure, human intention and big ideas are the stuff of mankinds greatest accomplishments, but nine times out of ten, they are instead the source of incredible human disaster. While many optimistic audience members may find the worldview on display in Grizzly Man to be cynical, there is no doubting Herzogs deep devotion to humanism and idealism. There is nothing but admiration from the filmmaker as, in film after film, he shows the odds stacked against us, and the inevitability of our failure. Herzog seems eternally captivated by the beauty of mans folly as well as his own understanding that, like everything else in nature, human nature is inescapable and leads to nothing but trouble. It is the purpose of art to expose us to ourselves, and Grizzly Man captures the dangerous naivet in the American myth, a part of our character so often misunderstood and celebrated as pluck and moxie, with an intellectual rigor and an artistry that is sorely needed on the movie screen right now.