Timothy Treadwell is a very fascinating individual, and Werner Herzog shows this very well. His choice of lifestyle to live among the grizzly bear population is all too easy to criticize, yet in ways it’s also incredibly admirable. The first half of this documentary invites us into the mind and kind-hearted spirit of this individual, whose absurd vision is met with an untimely, tragically ironic death. The second half is considerably darker, as Herzog shares his own judgment of Treadwell’s vast misunderstandings of how human-animal relations should be performed.
Guiding us through Timmy’s story are clips from the collection of video recordings made by himself during his journey. During these clips, I felt a close affinity with the individual. Though undeniably eccentric, it is his oddball demeanor that I find so charming. Moreover, it is his perseverance in his exhibition that I admire so much, as not very many of us could state that we worked as strenuously for something that we love.
At a certain point, Herzog is invited to listen to the audio recording of the gruesome moments of Treadwell’s death. His traumatized reaction is chilling, and his refusal to include the audio during any part of Grizzly Man‘s observation keeps viewers at a distance from the subject. Letting our imagination fill in the pieces of what the audio could have sounded like creates a more horrid picture of his death than reality could ever amount to.
Timothy’s story is an interesting one. On one hand, we could criticize him for daring to interfere with the balance of nature, and for being so naive to think he could teeter along the edges of this uncertainty without repercussion. On the other hand, his story could mean something so much deeper. One thing is for certain: his tale could not be easily forgotten by anyone who has explored it. I think one of Herzog’s quotes near the end of the film sums this up the best:
“What remains is his footage. And while we watch the animals in their joys of being, in their grace and ferociousness, a thought becomes more and more clear. That it is not so much a look at wild nature, as it is an insight into ourselves, our nature. And that, for me, beyond his mission, gives meaning to his life and to his death.“