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The dangers of anthropomorphization

Posted at 10:34 AM on August 22, 2005 by Euan Kerr (3 Comments)

Hi Maven-fans. Euan Kerr here again. La Curtis is taking a well-deserved late summer break, and asked me to fill in for a couple of weeks. So here we go.....

Few of us have to deal with the possibility of being eaten nowadays. Yet deep down we all carry an instinctive fear of becoming some other being's lunch. Werner Herzog never mentions this instinct, but it is never far from the surface in his new documentary 'Grizzly Man.' I defy anyone to sit through this film without having at least moments of primordial unease.

'Grizzly Man' follows the ill-fated career of self-styled 'Quiet Warrior' and animal protector, Timothy Treadwell, who spent 12 summers living among the grizzly bears in Alaska. Eventually one of his animal friends killed and ate him. The bear also killed his partner Amie Huguenard.

Herzog uses some of the 100 hours of videotape Treadwell shot during his trips to Alaska, mixed with interviews gathered after Treadwell's death. The film is a portrait of a troubled soul, whose obsession with the huge Alaskan bears allowed him to escape drink, drugs, depression, and a failed Hollywood career. (It's claimed that Treadwell's coming in second to Woody Harrelson for the bartender character in 'Cheers' set him off in a downward spiral.) Yet while Treadwell saw his transition as an escape into a dangerous paradise, Herzog shows it as a man-boy's retreat into delusion.

Some of Treadwell's video is spectacular. He learned how to get right up beside these huge carnivores as they fished, fought and mated. Yet the backbone of the film is built from his monologs. Delivered in a weird mixture of new age psycho-babble and baby talk, Treadwell's observations blend his explanations of the bears' behavior, with an ongoing analysis of the relationship he perceives he has with the animals. Often with bears in the background, he talks about the importance of what he is doing, his love for nature, and his increasing distain for the 'people' world. It's fascinating to watch, particularly when he casually points out the dangers of what he is doing. Near the end he clearly believed that his dire warnings of what could happen no longer apply to him.

As the film progresses Herzog points out some of Treadwell's contradictions: his desire to make his tapes as though he was alone, even though his girlfriend was usually there too; his claim of bear expertise while ignoring the accepted wisdom of local people who had lived (or rather survived) around bears for generations. Herzog also returns to his own theme of the mercilessness of nature, and the human delusion of control.

It's hard to escape the feeling Treadwell not only created his own myth, but more unfortunately, came to believe it was true. That mistake lost him his life, and cost the life of Amie Huguenard too.

Comments (3)

At the risk of anthropomorphising movie reviewers (wink), something is missing here that your average movie review reader desperately wants to know. Was the movie any good? Did you like it?
I've been interested in this film, but after reading this, I am still wondering if I will like it. I make a guess on that based on whether the reviewer liked a film and why.
I do appreciate your analysis of the film and hope you don't mind the nitpick. Maybe I'm just owly because I miss Miss Curtis.

Posted by Gary from River Falls | August 22, 2005 8:57 PM

Fair enough. I am still getting the hang of this blogging stuff!

Yes, I liked 'Grizzly Man' a great deal. So did my 14 year-old son. I'd recommend it to just about anyone.

It's a tribute to Herzog's skills as a director, that even though we know Treadwell's fate from the outset, we keep on watching to see how it turns out.

Posted by Euan Kerr | August 22, 2005 10:10 PM

yes, go see it. dan

Posted by dan | August 24, 2005 6:15 PM

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