Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man’ Documents a Beautiful and Tragic Life
By Lauren Sadja Otero, Special to the Valley Sun
The documentary, “Grizzly Man,” chronicles several consecutive summer expeditions in which Timothy Treadwell camps in the vast Alaskan wilderness. The amateur bear expert spends his days observing grizzly bears, often too close to the wild, unpredictable creatures.
Herzog captures Treadwell’s adventures in the scenic Alaskan Grizzly Maze and combines these images with clips of his family, friends, TV appearances and critics.
The combination of the varying perspectives describing the man who left a civilized world for one that he views as unpolluted and innocent, make it difficult to grasp the essence of the fast-talking, egocentric Timothy Treadwell.
Although he appears to camp alone while documenting his stay, Treadwell’s girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, accompanied him for two of those years. However, only several glimpses of Amie are captured on tape, as Treadwell attempts to preserve the allusion of complete isolation.
In all documented footage, he speaks to the camera as if completely alone. At times, he breaks into angry rants or falls apart emotionally such as when he notices that a lone bee has expired on a flower, causing him to lament the insect’s death that he calls both ‘beautiful’ andtragic’ - much like Treadwell himself.
But mostly, the film is full of foreshadowing as the audience awaits the inevitable result of living amongst dangerous, wild creatures. Treadwell acknowledges the grizzlies’ destructive capabilities with a line that he repeats more than once, “they can kill, they can bite, they can decapitate.”
At times, he seems to lose site of his own words as he pushes to befriend the bears that surround his camp. Images of the giant grizzlies, just inches from the camera, reveal how close Treadwell comes to these ferocious animals.
He credits these expeditions to his mission of protecting the bears and educating the American public about the grizzlies. But commentary from some of his critics, accompanied by narration from Herzog, seem to question whether his desire to break out of his humanness and live harmoniously amongst the bears, are indications of a man not living on the edge, but on the edge himself.
Ultimately, Herzog crafts a masterful collage of Timothy Treadwell’s hopes and dreams, highs and lows, and mostly his struggles while surrounded by the picturesque, yet unforgiving setting of the Alaskan wilderness and its untamed creatures.
Lauren Sadja Otero is an English major at Stanford University.