Saturday, April 08, 2006

Grizzly Man: A Movie Review

Picture borrowed from Netflix from whom I rented the movie...

I finally got around to watching this movie last night. A number of folks have suggested I see the documentary "Grizzly Man." After watching it, I hope they don’t think I’m anything like Tim Treadwell. Sure, I’ve had many encounters with bears in the wilderness (I’ll try to get a post together about some of those this week), and I too have a collection of Teddy Bears (all gifts) including my alter-ego Nevada Jack. I hope that’s where the similarities end.

Tim Treadwell spent thirteen summers with mosquitoes and Grizzlies in Alaska. He ignored the bugs although they can be seen swarming in much of the 100 hours of video he shot. He was obsessed with bears. This documentary is based upon the video Treadwell shot and augmented with interviews from bear experts, his friends and family and coroner. Hopefully, if someone does a documentary on my life, after my demise, a coroner will not be a part of the cast.

Had Treadwell stayed in mainstream society, he’d be a therapist’s gold mine. He lived his life vicariously through the bears. He saw himself their Messiah, a Christ-figure, and as with other Messiahs, those he loved killed him. Needless to say, mental stability wasn’t his forte. During one particularly dry summer, in which the salmon were unable to run upriver and the bears were beginning to eat each other and their cubs, Tim went out and removed rocks in a set of rapids so that salmon could get upstream. His lane looked like a seafood aisle for the bears. We were never told if any of the salmon tried to make it up his suicide run. Later, as the drought continued on for two months, he filmed himself in a profane triad against God and the gods, from Christ to Allah to Hindu deities and other gods in between, demanding rain to relieve the suffering of his bears. When it started to rain, his Messiah complex mushroomed. He credited himself with saving the bears.

Of course, one so immersed with nature has a hard time making it with humans. But this didn’t mean that the Grizzly guy didn’t try. He liked women and couldn’t understand why more women didn’t like him. "Why don’t they like me," he asked the camera, "cause I think I’m pretty good in the…" Then he said a guy isn’t supposed to talk about things like that. He also discussed how it would be easier for him to be gay, for he could just go to a truck stop and get his fix. Of course, if this was how he understood relationships, it’s no wonder he had a hard time getting along with people, men and women. Treadwell obviously had a need to connect to people as evident by the hours and hours of video he shot in which he hammed it up for the camera. It’s also interesting that his last two years in Alaska was spent with a girlfriend who became dessert for the bear who ate Treadwell. Treadwell hogged the camera and she is seen only a couple of times in the vast amount of video he shot. This is unfortunate for she was beautiful.

The movie depicts Treadwell as a man who had an idealistic view of nature and doesn't understand the stark realities that the world of bears (and foxes and all animals for that matter). Their world is harsh. Each animal is a part of the food chain. Even though a Grizzly may be on the top, when they get old, they too became targets. But Treadwell romanticized the bear’s world. He got upset at natural things, such as a male grizzly killing a cub so the mother will stop lactating and be once again be interested in sex.

Early in the movie, Grizzly Man reminded me of what might have happened to Mr. Rogers or Captain Kanagroo if they had been burned out on drugs. And sure enough, as the movie continued to explore past Treadwell’s life, it becomes apparent he had bad experiences with both drugs and alcohol. He credits the bears with "saving him," recalling this weird covenant he made with them. Treadwell promised to watch over the bears if they helped him avoid alcohol. If it’s possible to be co-dependent with part of the animal kingdom, this guy was.

My favorite scene in the movie was shot just a few days before his death. It shows a bear diving into a deep pool of water in search of salmon. Like a skin diver, the bear drops her head down and kicks up her back paws as she slowly sink downward. It’s incredible footage.


  1. Hi from Micheles.

    Well, your review is intriguing. It makes me want to see it and run from it all at once. I may at least google his name to learn more about the man and the bears that ate him (that wasn't on the film, was it? eeeeggh)

  2. You've convinced me. I've GOT to rent this one.

  3. Maybe a bit of schizophrenia involved as well? The bear footage sounds awesome! Have you seen March of the Penguins yet?

  4. I've read a lot about Treadwell. He definitely had passion about this but he didn't seem to understand how nature works - as much as he wanted to.

    Great review of this. Thank you.

  5. Sounds like a need to see movie. Some people just get lost in their own reality and miss out on the world...or get eaten by it.

  6. Hey, I sure didn't mean to imply you're anything like Treadwell -- I just thought it was a fascinating documentary, and I've had a man or two in my life who were a little nutty about nature -- there's this idea that nature is pure and good and that humans are absolutely corrupt, and if only we could have a closer relationship to the wild. . .

    Anyway, I'm glad you liked it!

  7. I posted about him this week as well, as you know. FASCINATING.

  8. Sage,

    The bear in your favorite scene was the bear that killed Treadwell and the beau.

    I thought the severity in his lack of a basic education cost him his life. I was intrigued by the persistence of ego, never mind the heart. He retrieved most of his information from the clouds, and otherwise asked the bears at times to be jury in consort with him. (He didn't know that he trekked (sp) a national park, a 'federal preserve'.) While he was one of the most ill informed people I have witnessed, I bet he is not alone. Maybe that's my ego talking, but I have a feeling it's my heart (indeed).

    Not sure that it's a "unfortunate" someone isn't captured head-on in footage "for she was beautiful". If she were a dog's heart beat ugly, she clearly didn't want to be a part of the lunacy. She was, if I remember, going to breakup with the idiot and return to further her career and interests and somewhere up in the future she was to have drunk a glass of wine and smacked her left temple saying, "what was I doing all those years ago, up there with that fool who endangered my life?".

    What I cannot fathom is how neither of he nor his girlfriend(s) knew he was gay. There was plenty Treadwell failed to come to terms with as tho each point in his life were a grave problem (that he had an ordinary and aneven happy upbringing which he had lost absolute sight of and therefore respect for). He wanted to be famous, to stand in the middle of a red carpet and have cameras flashing on him. Remember, he came in supposedly second for Woody Harelson's role on Cheers!. The desire for fame still nibbled on him; that vanity of ego failed to shrink in rejection.

    What scared me to death was his presence in public elementary school classrooms. At least on the Tonite Show, I sensed, Leno was easily trying to convey that the guy was mad. But in our schools, to the children, spreading ignorance disguised as love is irresponsible on a grand, grand scale; and I know some people will say that his intentions were good. He went unpaid, and yeah seemed to the hood-winkable 'prophet-like'. But his intensions were lazy, to have no real job (why didn't he work with other animal behaviourists, for example? because he lacked the education to enter into conversations with them), and to bilk the few women that congregated around that flop mess of hair.

    The greatest loss is of the woman, soon to be ex-girlfriend. She was kicking herself inside for returning in the off season to that national preserve. I just know that she was. She like so many of us do never had the chance to reconcile her blind sense of trust.


  9. I think the most interesting part was one that they didn't really focus on - the relationship between him and "Mr. Fox". Who doesn't remember ol' Timmy's reaction when the fox took his hat? Priceless.

    That movie should've been up for Best Comedy.

  10. Wow, this movie brings out the opinions. Some comments and answers:

    Oz: I've not seen March of the Penguins yet.

    Dawn: Do you think his passion was for figuring out how nature worked or was he not wanting to distrub his warped vision of how he thought nature should work?

    Kontan: I love this quote from you: " Some people just get lost in their own reality and miss out on the world...or get eaten by it."

    Ing, thanks for being one of the people who have encouraged me to watch this. You're right, the movie does show the fallacy some slip into of thinking nature that nature is pure and we can escape our corruption by retreating into it.

    Panthergirl, Yes, I remember your review and encourage others, if you want to deal more with a guy and gal eaten by a bear, to read hers.

    Ginab, you're right, that's the same bear that ate him, but you have to admit, it was some amazing footage. I confess that in trying to be humorous, I was a bit chauvinistic with my remarks about his girlfriend. As far as him being gay, I'm not sure about that, unless there is another source that I missed or don't know of. Otherwise, I'll take him at his word. And regardless of his sexual orientation, he was destined to have screwed up relationships. You are right about his desire to be in the spotlight--I wonder what kind of bartender he'd made? Or if he was really in the running?

    Murf, didn't you do a review about this movie too? BTW, Foxes are interesting animals--Two years ago on Isle Royale, one came in the camp and started to walk off with my sunglasses... I suppose she wanted to be foxy. :)

    Poopie, good to see you back. Have ya'll finally stopped doing the twist down there in Tennessee?

  11. Man I just see him as gay. I suppose it's the tone of voice. But on his parents, I wonder if his talking to pet squirrels and chipmonks when growing up changed his voice in some way. And perhaps his mom talked baby talk every day to him and his wild pals. I talk to Bea Bea in a 'purty voice' and now quit. :-)


  12. I did, Sage. As for the fox and your sunglasses, are you sure she wasn't just trying to help your style a bit by taking them from you? ;-)

  13. Wasn't that an incredible film? Blew me away. I thought it was full of amazing footage of the likes I don't think we're likely to see anywhere else. I also found it to be a profoundly sad and horrific film.

    As a big film fanatic I still can't get over how Herzog found this sad man and his story. I think one would be hard pressed to find a better example of such a PERFECT match for a subject matter and the artist who brings it to the screen. The sad truth IS like something that would have sprung from Herzog's mind. Perfect match.

    Herzog has always lived on the edge of madness. ...In my opinion. And, his best work normally follows a character in pursuit of an obsessive goal which is dependent upon the mercy of nature. ...the difference is, I think, Herzog has always understood (and his film show) that nature is an unforgiving mistress.

    I HIGHLY recommend THE WRATH OF GOD and FITZCAROLDO if you liked Herzog's documentary. You will see the connections.

    ...Herzog is a cinema hero of mine.

    On an aside, I am in agreement with Gina. I do think TR was a latent homosexual. I think Herzog allows us to see that but doesn't focus on it because it is really not so crucial to the point that Herzog is working.

    I am so curious to know if the DVD has a commentary from Herzog.

  14. I had not heard of intrigues me.
    I will have to add it to my netflix list.
    It was great reading your take on it as well as all the comments.
    Here from Michele's!

  15. Great film review Sage. I've heard stellar things about Herzog's documentary and I'm glad to see it is such an intriguing and interesting topic of conversation. Unfortunately I haven't seen it but I'm going to try to very soon.

  16. Ginab, His parents were real trips--they could have made an interesting study... Did you like my poem?

    Murf, nice glasses! btw, the fox story is true (except for the foxy part). This fox came into camp and kept trying to steal stuff as we were packing up and getting ready to hit the trail.

    Matt, I am going to have to check out those other movies (I've saved them on Netflix). The Wrath of God sounds very interesting. Sorry I can't help you on the DVD offerings. I sent it back on Saturday and didn't check to see if there was a director's take on it.

    V, I'll look forward to your review on Grizzly Man.

    I hope that I'll get a post up about my bear encounters tomorrow.

  17. Hi Sage. Quick note to let you know your comment re. the mass murder re. London got to me. I posted a new entry as a result. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

  18. I definitely will have to see this. It sounds a lot like the Nature programs I love on PBS.

  19. I've got to see it myself, I beleive I'll ask someone to send it to me when I get to over there. some people would say I'm like him. From what you say, I hope not. Everyone I talked to about it say's it's great. Bears are unique animals. You don't mess with them.

  20. just kill them and eat them. ;-)

  21. I haven't seen the movie because everytime I see the title, I am reminded of how stupid some people can be. He ranks up there with the Ralphston kid who got his arm pinched while doing a dangerous solo hike. Both Treadwell and Ralphston (especially the latter case) have been made out to be almost hero like and glorified for what they did. Too many people are naive when it comes to the outdoors. The bear that ate Treadwell was doing what it did best, survival of the fittest. Darwin would be proud.

  22. Amen, brother. I proudly acknowledge my naivity with the outdoors so I stay inside.

  23. Oh, murf, you're missing alot if you let lack of knowledge totally hold you back.

    Anyway, sage, this sounds like one those movies that repulse and pull at the same time.