Documentaries are all the rage these days. Audiences love to see sets of strange or larger than life characters living what they believe to be normal. We love to guffaw, mock and engage with these people because we could never achieve such a high point of enjoying our lives. They live on an edge of implausibility, the idea that such a lifestyle could simply not be possible. It’s so far from the norm that it doesn’t make sense. Grizzly Man looks to document such a tale, one of Timothy Treadwell and his relationship with brown grizzly bears.
Treadwell as a person was, in my experience, difficult to connect with. I share his overwhelming passion, though, for different aspects of my life. To take something you are so enthralled with and exasperate it to the largest extreme available is something I attempt to do also. I could never experience the dedication and love Treadwell feels, and I think it’s amazing that any one man could have such passion. My most dearly held hobbies do not elicit even half of the love and passion Treadwell feels for grizzly bears. His passion is calming, there’s a great deal of footage that show his narration, often situated too close to comfort for the animals he holds such love for. He’s a unique character, a little energetic and out of place, finding happy seclusion with these dangerous animals.
Herzog is a superb addition to the project, directing and narrating us through the documentary. His voice is calming, but he also takes an authoritative stance in a handful of on-screen appearances. There are some truly touching moments throughout, and for those that have seen the documentary I’m sure you can think of the one scene I’m alluding to. Herzog has such a compassion for those affected by the death of Treadwell, and it’s nice to see that even he is not afraid to mask his emotions. It sets up the stage for a grander emotional attachment, it’s what managed to reel me in.
There are scenes within Grizzly Man that could bring Treadwell’s sanity into question. His paranoia on display in the later parts of the documentary is concerning, and the ethics of his situation and the way that he highlights himself in this time is rather baffling. Herzog uses it to his advantage though, providing us a deep dive into the mindset of a man in isolation, and how his care for these grizzly creatures has whittled away at his mind. A documentary that begins as a general study of one man who takes his passions to the limit, and ends with, as Herzog puts it, “I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature.”
Grizzly Bear is a passion project, filmed by a man not afraid of intimacy, assembled by a veteran of strangely unique and fleetingly interesting documentaries. You may not have interest in bears or the story of Terrence Treadwell, but it is well worth entering the grizzly maze for an intensely moving experience about how a passion for danger can lead to grave consequences.