Grizzly Man

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

There's no doubt that Timothy Treadwell was insane. Just look at the facts; here was a guy who lived (unarmed) with bears, who referred to himself in the third person (always a sure sign of insanity) and who had a loon for a best friend. But entirely because of that, his story is a fascinating one.

At first, what's so amazing about Treadwell is how camp he is. He has a squeaky little voice, a peculiar obsession with his wispy hair and he's always cooing, "I love you" to his animal 'friends'. It seems remarkable that such a person would survive so long in the wilderness. But fortunately for Treadwell, he's both tough and completely insane. Therefore he has the blind confidence of the deluded – he never really thinks about what he's doing.

Treadwell's lack of real insight is summed up in his life's purpose – he wants to protect the bears. But the forces that he's protecting the bears from are amorphous (poachers and the Park Service). They're never really there. And it's telling that when some strangers finally do turn up, Treadwell can only hide in the bushes and film from afar as the men throw rocks at the bears – he doesn't do much protecting.

But as Treadwell admits, it's more about the bears protecting him. Which, I guess, is ridiculous (and it is), but it's also true. As the film shows us, Treadwell was in all kinds of trouble before he went bear crazy. He lost his scholarship, became a drunk and got involved with criminal elements. Had he kept steering that course, he probably would have wound up getting killed. And although it's darkly comic that his new obsession finally did bring about his death, it did at least provide him with a momentary release.

The film that Treadwell shot is both amusing and sad. It's amusing because Treadwell is such a strange figure, declaring himself a 'kind warrior' and touching bear faeces with an almost orgasmic excitement. But it's sad because Treadwell is so out of touch with reality. For example, he gives all the bears cute little names like 'Mr Chocolate' and 'Rowdy' – he even calls a particularly nasty bear 'The Grinch'. All the time he's trying to humanise them. He desperately wants to be their friend. And although at times Treadwell seems to understand that they're killers, it never truly sinks in that they could kill him. "I will not die at their claws and paws," he says.

Another illuminating moment is when one of his fox friends steals his cap. He seems deeply upset; he seems personally affronted. He just doesn't quite grasp the fact that these are wild animals, that they aren't really his pals. But despite this, Treadwell does capture some wonderful moments on film. There's a fantastic bit where he's in his tent playing with the paws of a fox that come poking through from outside. It's here that you can understand why Treadwell has isolated himself from people. It's innocent moments like this that keep him hanging on to the few marbles he has left rattling about in his brain.

But although Treadwell doesn't really understand nature, Herzog does. In his unmistakable German accent he says he sees no kinship in the bear's eyes: "I only see the overwhelming indifference of nature". Everything between Treadwell and the bears is one sided. The love is only his. To them he's just meat. Or as a helicopter pilot says, maybe the bears just thought he was mentally retarded.

And although the film is a wonderful insight into a crazy mind, and although it's poignant and sad, it's also very funny. And it's some of the peripheral characters who provide the biggest laughs. One moment that sticks in my mind is when Herzog is talking to Treadwell's crazy ex-girlfriend. It could and should have been a moving moment, as Herzog is listening to the tape recording of Treadwell's death, but Treadwell's ex is just so bonkers that I couldn't help but guffaw when she broke into some of the weirdest tears I've ever seen – at first it seems like she's laughing. And then you have Herzog, in his gravest tones, telling her that she must never listen to the tape. And she replies, "I know, Werner." No wonder the scene has been parodied.

And then you have the coroner. He really seems to love the fact that he's in front of the camera and decides to ham it up for everyone. And this actually leads me to my one criticism of the film. There are a few sections that are just too staged – the scene with the watch and the bit in the morgue stand out the most. Herzog is obviously trying to give the film more drama, to break away from the restrictions of a documentary, but the people in the film are over the top enough as it is without them acting it up for the camera. The story really doesn't need any spicing up.

But despite that one criticism, Grizzly Man is a wonderful film. It tells the story of a ridiculous man who probably did more harm that good, but at the same time the story is strangely positive. It offers hope to damaged people. It shows that by finding a purpose in life, you can overcome your problems and find some degree of happiness. I guess the trick is to focus your energies on something less dangerous than man-eating bears.

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  1. It's easy to be a "surface" reader.

  2. And it's easy to write cryptic messages that mean fuck all.

  3. "who referred to himself in the third person"

    no he didnt you dumb ass...
    when every you heard his say 'Timmy' ITS BECAUSE OF THE FOX

    I think you should check and see if your penis didnt because a vagina.

  4. Wait a minute, let me check. Okay, I'm dropping my trousers now. And now I'm pulling down my underwear. Hmm. Before me I see an external sexual organ. It's kind of...tubular in shape and I see a couple of ball-shaped sacks. Hmm. Initial findings lead me to believe that I have not experienced involuntary gender change. But can I trust my eyes? Maybe this apparent cock is a vagina in disguise.

    Okay, I'm rubbing the tubular-shaped organ to see if it's really there. This has produced an immediate response. The organ has grown in size and it's beginning to stand of its own accord. Hmm. This is quite remarkable. There are no strings attached to it; no chains embedded in the shaft. And now the foreskin is retracting. Oh dear, there seems to be some smegma on the glans. Never mind. A quick wipe and that's gone.

    But maybe my vagina is hiding underneath my cock. Okay, I'm digging around. Nope, that's a testicle. Oops, and that's another one. But what's this? Could it be I've found it?!? Have I really developed a vagina? Oh, sorry, it's just my anus.

    Anyway, wait a moment: "I think you should check and see if your penis didnt because a vagina." Because? I thought you said 'become'! You mean I've been showing my cock off to an illiterate bell-end? Urgh. Now I feel dirty.