Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Garbage, privacy, and the law | Main | Iraqi "freedom" »

August 21, 2005

Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man is Werner Herzog's documentary about Timothy Treadwell, an environmentalist who spent 13 consecutive summers (1991 through 2003) living with grizzly bears in Katmai Park on the Alaskan peninsula.

Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed by a grizzly in the fall of 2003.

During his last 5 summers in Katmai Park, Treadwell shot over 100 hours of video of his life among the grizzlies. This footage forms the core of Herzog's Grizzly Man. Treadwell was no casual videographer. It's obvious to the moviegoer that he was painstakingly shooting an autobiographical film, in which he would appear as the heroic grizzly protector.

At times it seems as if Herzog is straining to impose his own favorite themes on Treadwell's story. In voiceover, the director says that Treadwell rejected the human world and decamped for Alaska to fight his demons in "wild nature." Treadwell's own footage tells a different story. Frankly, he doesn't seem to be battling any demons to speak of. He sometimes angry or irritated. Informants who knew him assure us in interviews that Treadwell had a "dark side." But as far as we can see, he's seamlessly self-deluded.

As David Edelstein puts it:

The nutty thing about Treadwell is that—for all the talk of his "acting like a bear"—he's a dead ringer for Corky St. Clair, the gay theater director played by Christopher Guest in Guest's Waiting for Guffman. There is the same self-dramatization ("I am a samurai warrior when challenged!"), the same wounded petulance, the same overflowing sentimentality: "I love you! I love you!... He's a big bear, yes he is."

We only see Treadwell when he knows he's on camera, usually when he's filming himself in the Alaskan wilderness. Yet, for all his overt preening and self-consciousness, he never really breaks character--even when he's wondering aloud between takes about whether his hair looks okay, chasing a fox that stole his hat, or whining into his hand-held cam about how he's a nice guy who can't get laid.

In between takes we see Treadwell addressing the camera less formally--but he's the same self-deluded narcissist throughout.

Herzog only gradually reveals the extent of Treadwell's self-delusion.   

Treadwell's central claim is that he's on a mission to protect the bears, but we eventually learn that Katmai Park is already a federally protected nature preserve patrolled by the Federal Parks Service. As a real bear biologist later explains, the grizzly population of Katmai isn't even endangered. Poaching isn't a major problem in Katmai, and when potential poachers turn up, the flighty, unarmed Treadwell proves a feeble deterrent.

For all his tearful statements of devotion, Treadwell's relationship with the grizzlies is remarkably shallow. He gives them cutesy names and addresses them in baby talk. He has no apparent scientific curiosity about the bears. The last thing he wants is a detached human perspective on his "animal friends."

Treadwell effectively domesticates the foxes in his camp. Blissed out pups lie against Treadwell as he strokes their fur. When he gets up, they follow him like dogs. Sometimes he spills his guts to the nice foxes about his problems with the glorious but unattainable bears.

More than anything Grizzly Man captures the paradox of narcissism. Treadwell can't relate to anyone or anything except as an extension of his own desires. He desperately wants to be liked and respected, but he can't step outside himself long enough to imagine how he's coming across to other people, or even to animals.

Herzog and his informants search for meaning in Treadwell's life and death, but what did he really accomplish? Very little, as it turns out. He didn't learn much about bears because he was overcome by his own gooey sentimentality. If the video record is any indication, he didn't learn anything about himself. You keep wondering when he's going to realize how absurd he looks. Instead, he spent his months of solitude constructing elaborate cinematic "proof" of his own heroism. Ironically, the record shows the exact opposite. 


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Grizzly Man :


The crack about union crews irritated me. I didn't find Herzog condescending so much as stiff and pompous. Sometimes the narration descended into self-parody--like the part where he points out that although Treadwell is railing against the Park Service, the Park Service probably "wasn't his real enemy."

Herzog clearly respects Treadwell as a filmmaker, which for him is about the biggest compliment one human can give another.

I saw Grizzly Man with a friend who thinks that Treadwell committed suicide by bear. At first I thought the theory was far fetched, but now I think it's a quite reasonable theory. For all of Treadwell's bravado and conceit, I think he might have sensed that the girlfriend who died with him might have been is last best chance at a relationship. When he sensed that she wanted to leave him, he might have wanted to end it all and feed the starving bears in the process. The suicide theory could explain Treadwell's demeanor in the last footage he shot of himself and why Herzog describes Treadwell as only moaning and begging his girlfried to leave him as he was attacked, rather than screaming and fighting (as the gf is described as behaving). Of course, it could be that Treadwell was too injured to scream and fight, but I think there is reason to think he might have wanted to bear to kill him.

Big cats: lions and tigers can be worked with. Leopards kill more trainers than lions & tigers combined, because they're profoundly irascible. The trainers get bored and decide to do a leopard as a career challenge, and sooner or later that's it.

Roy's explanation:

About the permanent upbeat self-delusion, the mention of the dark side and the comments of Swopa and epistemology: let us not forget that Treadwell chose when to film himself. I would like to know whether he was ever depressed in the wild, if there were periods of time when he was not filming himself, when he couldn't bear his "friends".

An excellent film, although Treadwell was a type of character well-known to me...a type of person best avoided.

whenever he was talking, all I could think of was how much he sounded like Barney the dinosaur. From watching the film, I got the impression that the bears were really just there to make Treadwell look heroic. His ranting about being a "Warrior" was very pathetic.

Timothy Treadwell: bipolar, perhaps, but narcissist for sure. Simultaneously living life as a scripted play, and acting the part of hero in it. Anything to prove his specialness to the real audience -- himself -- rather than sink into an underlying self-loathing depression at being insignificant. But as generally happens, reality upstaged him.

This commentative article appears to be written by some pessimistic, negative nancy with the idea that her life sucks, so everyone elses interpretation of the movie should too. It's not narcissistic for a former addict to be thanking his lucky stars that he broke away from the chain of addiction, no matter how delusional his bear fantasy might be.

You thought I didn't like the movie, Don? GM was one of the best movies of 2005, no question. Where did you get the idea that I disrespect anyone else's interpretation of the film?

I can't wait to hear that fuckin tape!!! I might crank off to it. HARD like a grizzly or crazy like a fox. I bet it was that fucker, Mr. Chocolate. Or maybe those park service bastards. I wish I could have watched them DIE. PSYCHE. That's uncalled for. But seriously, just kidding, not really, or am I? I guess it would be cool

Crank off..? Dumb* ho*!

Crank off..? Dumb* ho*!

Call me skeptical, but there sure sounds like there was an alcohol or drug abuse story associated with the Grizzly Man.

Grizzly Man - Death By Bear Suicide - I instantly saw there is a gradual path to him killing himself by bear, in fact the chap who made the film who has been through all the footage seems to know this by the little hints we get, for instance at the very end of the movie we are told he got into a row at the airport & exclaimed how much he hated the modern world & headed on back into the wilderness. At this time he has totally rejected the modern world, he knows he has nowhere to go.

The last footage we seem he hesitant, we see him looking around almost as a thief in a store would, he is without doubt very anxious, & even pauses before he leaves the screen, stopping to say one last thing but does not, but he looks beyond defeated, he looks lost.

Why, when he would stay for weeks after weeks did he die just before the chopper arrived, he was still being eaten when the pilot entered the camp. The decision as is so often with suicide was made earlier, he girlfriend was leaving him & although he decided to stay & die, he waited until closer to the arrival to let her get out, but she too was caught up, in his madness.

He realized that he could not go on, the critics had come to loud & he knew to some extent he was living a lie, no he was not saving anything, he made no difference at all, he had been reduced to hiding his camp under bushes & telling lies as to poachers, him being alone when he was with what we know is various friends, trapping in the area, notes on rocks that where death threats but clearly where not etc... in the end as is so often the world they have built starts to crumble & oh so often he decided as many others have to die in this crumbling world that face reality.

I watched this film for the first time 2 days ago .I have a few observations to make.
There was a real sadness in Treadwell.
He obviously struggled in the human world but I think his real goal was to be a success in this human world.
He seemed to be looking for acceptance and the bears were the means to this acceptance , a supporting role if you like and completely secondary to his main aim of recognition from his fellow man .
The "i'm a hero" and constant "look at me" and "the world is against me" attitudes seem support the fatc that he is really after acceptance .
Whilst coming across as egotistical and slightly bonkers I also think he is endearing like a lost child.
I agree that he may have orchistrated his demise by deliberately camping in an area where he likely to be at a very high risk of encountering a bear whilst asleep .
His last video shots were very poignant and there was a real sense of foreboding in his body language .
I also am intrigued as to how the camera was on during the bear attack ? It does seem very odd that during what would be a very stressful situation , someone turned this on but did not remove the lens cap . Of course as a complete cynic one could suggest that a recorded death would maximize publicity and potentially enhance Treadwells reputation in death ?

who knows but certainly a fascinating story .....and a fascinating character .

Nobody will ever make about you, you fucking cunt. You know nothing about empathy, and certainly nothing about tragedy. I hope you are a serial cannibal's next meal.

Nobody will ever make a movie about you, Beyerstein; you are still a hypocritical cunt who deserves twice the pain that Treadwell suffered.

Thanks Lindsay for beginning this thread of discussion. I only saw the movie recently. I am of the mind that Timothy committed suicide but took thirteen years of crying for help and on some level did have 'love' for himself which he dramatically projected onto the bears. Remember he always took along his fluffy teddy...

The comments to this entry are closed.