Grizzly Man is a fascinating documentary about a mentally disturbed man who lived for several months at a time with the grizzly bears in Alaska and ultimately lost his life to the animals he loved so much. It features some amazing footage caught in the wild, and also serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of tampering with wild animals.
Timothy Treadwell was certainly an interesting man. He was a failed actor who almost landed the Woody Harrelson role of the bartender on Cheers, according to his family. After battling alcoholism, he wound up falling in love with grizzly bears and started a foundation to educate people about them. What he would do is spend several months camping out and living among the bears while videotaping the entire experience. He would then present his videos to schools. Oddly enough, he did this all for free so his motives were purely personal. I’m guessing he had some money saved or worked on donations. This documentary never specifies who funded his outings.
The footage of the bears is amazing. There is a brutal fight between two of them where you see fur and blood flying and one even defecates all over himself. In several places they get close enough for Treadwell to touch them on the nose. Additionally, Treadwell had befriended a den of foxes and actually camped near them. They would follow him around like dogs and he would pet them. It was really neat to see that reaction since foxes are high level predators and can be quite dangerous.
There is a lot of profanity in this, and it comes from Treadwell’s tirades on how animals are treated as well as his opinions on things like relationships. In the same way that Tom Hanks befriended Wilson in Castaway, Treadwell treats the video camera as a companion and has many conversations with it. He was also a serious filmmaker and would do multiple takes for the camera. He was, after all, making the videos for children so the cussing was not intended for show. On the last trip he took, Treadwell’s girlfriend came along but she only appears briefly on camera. She was also killed with him.
One thing this movie never mentions, at least not that I recall, is how Treadwell was able to get this footage because the animals weren’t familiar enough with humans to know to be afraid. I remember an episode of The Crocodile Hunter where he went so far out into the wild that the animals had never seen a human before and didn’t know to run. That’s how Treadwell was able to get friendly with the fox den as well as get close to the bears. What he failed to recognize was that level of familiarity can be deadly and that’s the same reason why you aren’t supposed to feed dangerous animals. You don’t want them to get comfy with humans or see them as a source of food.
It’s easy to compare Treadwell to Steve Irwin. Both of them have long blonde hair and are quite hyper. Both of them also went out of their way to show us wildlife in ways never seen before, but in doing so they crossed a line. These animals are dangerous and not meant to be screwed with, and both of these men paid the ultimate price, and ironically both of their deaths were recorded. I liked how Herzog, at the end of this documentary, basically said that we shouldn’t judge Treadwell but instead be thankful from the amazing video he captured and leave it at that. I doubt that anyone will go grab a camera and head out into the woods with the grizzlies after watching Grizzly Man.
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