September 11, 2005

"Grizzly Man."

I finally got the chance to see "Grizzly Man," the one current movie that I really cared about. I loved it. Timothy Treadwell — now there is a character! He'd have been a terrible character in a work of fiction, though, I think, because he was just too strange to believe, too multidimensional, and too silly for his tragedy.

And the story would have been worse as fiction, because things that had to be left mysterious would have been dramatized in a fiction movie. The difficulty in seeing who Amie Huguenard was gave the movie a deep poignancy. How entirely different it would have been if we had seen Amie and Timothy expressing their emotions to each other! How did he get her to go there with him and why did she stay, even when she had one last chance to run?

Like Amie, the grizzly bears are mysterious and unknowable, as the material is ultimately presented by the director, Werner Herzog (who says in the voiceover "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder"). But Treadwell thought he understood the bears and that they could understand him too.

Our wonderful, thrilling central character lived a wild life, figured out how to do some amazing things, but got some things dramatically wrong. Who was he? Was he mostly a frustrated actor, who took to making his own insanely grandiose movie after he came in second in the casting for the "Cheers" role they gave to Woody Harrelson? Did he go back in the end to die out there?


Simon Kenton said...

I had been pretty well soured on documentaries by the Mooreish tendentiousness, which scouts all obligation to scholarly values. And then, this one. What a remarkable man, and what a remarkable film. If you've spent any time in Alaska, you've met some of those types. In Boulder or Aspen, some of the others. And wasn't the coroner an uninventably brilliant character?

Speaking as a hunter: those scenes with the foxes: You cannot get a fox to do that - unless you feed it. But this is the Artic - habituate a fox to handouts and you are subscribing its deathwarrant for the next winter. The scene with the bear approaching the party of fishermen: a coastal grizzly doesn't do that - unless it has been habituated by the presence of man. And as for Treadwell - did you find yourself hanging fire for adjectives when writing about him? He has that spherical defiance of writers - there's nothing you can say that isn't instantly contradicted, nothing that doesn't demand qualification. A grand character indeed.

And yet. I'm left with irritation. He loves his little brothers the foxes, but he has to domesticate them, and thus doom them. He loves the bears, and announces themselves his protector. But the bears in that area are already protected, and if a poacher ever does come by, they'll walk right into the gun muzzle, domesticated by Treadwell, doomed by familiarity with man. He knows them so intimately, by his standards; he names and recognizes and agonizes over them all. But he can't tell the difference between coastal bears, to whom food looks like fish; and interior bears, for whom we are sometimes on the menu. All his protection devolves to one miserable incident and 3 deaths, most particularly the death of the bear that ate him. Doesn't this remind you of those people for whom love first excuses any behavior toward the outside world, and finally, any behavior toward the beloved? "No love, quoth he, but Vanity, Sets love a task like that." My take is that of the Inuit who said his people had been living with a boundary between themselves and the great bears for 7000 years; to breach that boundary was ultimately to disrespect the bears.

Still though, what I would really enjoy reading from you is a woman's reaction to him as a man. I don't think there's enough within the movie to fathom Huguenard, but there may be in the reactions of women to Treadwell.

Ann Althouse said...

Simon: I agree with you that Treadwell was making immense mistakes in judgment. But what are you asking? Did I find Treadwell sexually attractive? I have never even gone camping, so to me, he offered a life that was far beyond anything I could ever find appealing. But also, he was obviously manic, and that just could never go well. I enjoyed getting close to him via cinema, however.

Simon Kenton said...

Well, Ann, he stymied me. All those women of the granolette subvariety were enough taken by him to reverence him after death, and one of them to die with him, probably attempting to save him. Usually I have a sense that women will find a particular man attractive. With Treadwell, I have to recuse. He wrapped delusions very persuasively around a core of narcissism, and caused the useless deaths of a lot of animals he claimed to protect. I can't get around that. And he seemed so fey that I had a hard time seeing him as attracted to or attracting women. He had energy, which is perhaps the most attractive human characteristic. I can't come to a fair estimate of the man, and wondered if your perspective could help. And that's what I was asking.

Cat said...

Simon - you hit the nail on the head.

As a woman, he was completely unappealing, and then I just thought after the first 5 minutes, "What a jack ass." I didn't understand the women and what they saw in him since he seemed disturbed. I actually spent the evening and weekend afterwards impersonating him, "I have spent another weekend in my apartment protecting my cats...if it wasn't for me, what would happen to them? I have seen poachers looking at them while they laze in the windows...some helicopters have flown over..."

As far as habituating the foxes, remember he would stay in the same place all summer (the wrong thing to do - you are supposed to move camp often as those fascist fish and game folks wanted!)and camp IN BETWEEN two fox holes.

I think what you have here is an alcoholic who could not handle real life, so he created a life and purpose in an artificial world where he believes he was finally accepted (by grizzlys, the real world was out to get him and stop his "work.") He traded alcohol escapism for wilderness escapism.

Cat said...

Did you also notice how he had a stuffed bear with him in the tent to sleep with?

Dobertp said...

Funny Grizzly Man parody here:

betsybounds said...


"As a woman, he was completely unappealing, . . ."

Well, I watched the movie too, but I missed the part where he appeared as a woman. However, as a woman, I found him unappealing as either a man or a bear.

JazzBass said...

I can't get into the concept this man was living. Foolish, foolhardy, fool is what I see.

I love Herzog. Fitzcarraldo and Incident at Loch Ness are two of my all time faves.

Is my stubborn streak shortchanging me towards this film?


John Lynch said...

Like the cave paintings at Chauvet, I'll add another comment to this post after the passing of many years.

Finally got around to watching Herzog. Amazing documentaries that cover things you'd only know if you'd been there. And ultimately they're about people. Despite Herzog's dark view of the universe (there's a passage in "Encounters at the End of the World" where a scientist theorizes that we grew from single cells to escape the horror of life in the ocean), he believes in human beings.

Herzog is wonderfully skeptical of many of the dominant religions of our time, from New Age to capitalism to tree-hugging. I love it.