Grizzly Man (2005)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
Inability of Hollywood to produce original stories has benefited the makers of documentaries. These days it is more likely that a viewer will experience huge outburst of emotions while watching documentary than by watching any average Hollywood drama. One of those true stories that seem to be beyond the grasp of Hollywood screenwriters is a subject of GRIZZLY MAN, 2005 documentary written and directed by legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
The protagonist of this documentary is Timothy Treadwell (1957- 2003), failed Hollywood actor and former drug addict who reached fame as one of the world's greatest bear enthusiasts. Staring with 1990, he was spending every summer in Kaitami National Park in Alaska. There he became enchanted with local fauna, most notably brown bears. Gradually, he became self-appointed protector of bears from human encroachment and spent his last few summers recording his adventures with video camera. The footage was more than a hundred hours long, and small section of it makes the basis of Herzog's film. The rest is made of interviews with Treadwell's friends, acquaintances, Park officials, biologists, various experts and local coroner.
The story of GRIZZLY MAN is very unusual, to say the least. Those who never heard of Treadwell or Herzog might get an impression of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT parody rather than documentary. This illusion is broken only through Herzog's solemn and serious narration that puts surreal words and images into the real life context.
Some of the most surreal scenes feature Treadwell coming near the huge bears and expressing his love for them in high-pitched tone. Those, near-idyllic images, set in the area of enormous natural beauty, represent the sharp contrast to the extremely violent fight between two male bears over a female. Treadwell, who recorded the event, later visits the site, which now looks very much like an aftermath of tank battle, and describes it with the words more appropriate to kindergarten fight. When the audience compares those two images, they will come to conclusion Treadwell couldn't or didn't want to make.
Those familiar with Herzog's previous opus will probably understand why German filmmaker became attracted to Treadwell's story. Treadwell is in many ways similar to the protagonists of Herzog's classic films. As film goes by, Treadwell's recordings- in which he acts like a genuine star - reveal a man increasingly disconnected not only with civilisation he learned to despise, but also with reality. Herzog spells that out in his narration, while, in the same time, praises his ability of a filmmaker.
Like few films ever made in recent times, GRIZZLY MAN is able to make audience both laugh and cry. This film also allows audience to make its own mind about the unusual protagonist. Some may praise Treadwell as noble idealist who paid the ultimate price trying to fight for something he believed in. Others may see him as mentally disturbed exhibitionists, while some may look at him as a modern-day equivalent of Sacred Fool. In any case, Treadwell deserved to have film about him, just like this exceptionally powerful documentary deserves to be seen.
RATING: 9/10 (++++)