Starring: Timothy Treadwell, Amie Huguenard, Werner Herzog
Director: Werner Herzog
Running Time: 103 mins
Grizzly Man is an American documentary about the life of Timothy Treadwell, a grizzly bear activist who spent 13 summers living among wild bears in a remote corner of Alaska, until his and his girlfriend’s death in 2003.
This is a fantastic documentary, and one that does more than just detail the unique life of a man, but also strongly move you with a fascinating and incredibly powerful portrayal of the deepest facets of humanity, and the struggle between human civilisation and the natural world, conjuring up heartwrenching feelings of regret, tragedy and more.
There’s so much that makes Grizzly Man a truly stunning documentary. At the outset, it is a film that looks to tell the story of Timothy Treadwell, a man with such a passion for the natural world that he spent a significant proportion of his life living among it. That’s what I expected from this film, and while I was definitely intrigued by Treadwell’s history and his exploits while living among wild bears in an incredibly isolated habitat, the film manages to hit far, far deeper.
What’s most interesting and uniquely effective about the film is that it doesn’t tell its story in any sort of chronological order. Above all, that makes its more abstract and spiritual take on Treadwell’s story more appropriate, but it also allows you to see past the tragic inevitability of Treadwell’s death at the hands of the animals that he believed he was caring for.
The film’s saddest and most striking part is covered in the opening act, meaning that director Herzog is able to direct your attention to other parts of the history, and have you lend them the same degree of attention, rather than leaving you watching for an hour and a half waiting in tension for when that horrific moment would come.
And that’s an amazing directorial choice from Herzog, because it allows you to see Treadwell from all different perspectives, including those that you may not have even thought of. Because, while it seems at the outset that Treadwell was a man simply protecting nature, the film delves into the wide variety of opinions surrounding the man from a very balanced and fair viewpoint.
Some praise his dedication to protecting the animals, others criticise him for actually doing more harm than good, and most importantly, many look to Treadwell as an individual, and how his troubled life led him to move away from the human world, and begin seeing himself as one with nature.
This is all played out with fascinating clips from the many hours of footage Treadwell recorded while in the ‘Grizzly Maze’, punctuated by interviews with those closest to him. And so, a film that I first expected to be all about bears, soon turned into one with such depth and powerful emotion, thoroughly analysing the man who was at the centre of this story, and with a lingering sense of regret surrounding the tragedy that ultimately befell him, is able to pull you in and see everything about Treadwell as a person; the good and the bad, and what led him to live his life the way he did.
That’s why Grizzly Man is such a good documentary. It does the base job of telling a fascinating story, and its content is riveting throughout, yet it goes so much deeper than you could ever imagine, with Herzog’s devastating analysis of a man who became disillusioned with the real world providing stunningly moving drama and emotion throughout, as well as a fascinating and well-balanced insight into the age-old battle between humanity and nature, an absolutely enthralling theme to follow right the way through.
It’s not an easy watch, and there is a lot heartache to go with the engrossing history, but Grizzly Man is a truly excellent film from beginning to end regardless, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.5 overall.