Battlepanda: Movie Review: Grizzly Man


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Movie Review: Grizzly Man

There is something stupendously incongruous about watching Timothy Treadwell hamming it up for the camera with the pristine Alaskan wilderness of Katmai National Park as his backdrop. He looks like his natural environment should be the Santa Monica Pier, with his floppy blond hair and surfer dude stylings. And Timothy Treadwell is in fact an actor from L.A., but his passion is grizzly bears, and he spent 13 summers in Alaska in their midst before his luck ran out and he, along with his girlfriend, got eaten by one.

I've known (usually) guys like Treadwell. I think he definitly is of a 'type' -- incredibly narcissistic and self-centered, yet shot through with emotionality and sentimentality. Childlike, in their craving for attention, approbation, and love. I generally cannot stand their presence, but find it hard to think ill of them nevertheless. Treadwell for instance. His love of the bears and rampant anthromorphization of them is patently ridiculous, but I disagree with Majikthise's dismissal of it as a shallow love because he has "no apparent scientific curiosity" about them, that he is not sufficiently "detached", that he is no "real bear biologist". I think those criticisms probably speaks volumes about Lindsay's worldview, in which reasoned, scientific analysis trumps. I would call Treadwell's love for animals many things -- misguided and destructive comes to mind, but what it is not is shallow. One bear pretty much looks like another to me. But he knows them all by name. When a drought threatens the survival of the bears, he inveighs "Jesus-boy", "Christ-man", Allah and the "Hindu floaty-thing" to make it rain already!
That is not enough. We're gonna
need more rain. We need more rain!

Downey is hungry!
Tabitha's hungry!

Melissa is eating her babies.

I'm like a fucking nut.
We've got to have some rain.
When he comes upon a dead baby fox, he gently strokes its fur, and his voice whittled down to a simultaneously hoarse and whiny whisper: "Oh, God! I love you...I love you and I don't understand...It's a painful world." Call it what you will, but Treadwell's love was not shallow. True, his animal "friends" did not love him back, but since when did lack of recipriocation invalidate love?

After the baby-fox episode, Werner Herzog's terse yet volumous, relentlessly Germanic commentary continued: "He seemed to ignore the fact that in nature there are predators. I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder." Werner Herzog's favorite theme is the futile hubris of humanity, and in Timothy Treadwell I think he found both a muse and a foil. In a way, Treadwell is a permatanned, bear-obsessed Aguirre. Again, I disagree with Lindsay -- she finds Treadwell's narcissistic self-delusion undercutting Herzog's theme while I would say that Hertzog's whole point about the human condition is that we are ultimately and magnificently narcissistic and self-deluded.

I think my view of Treadwell is also colored by the extended segment Werner filmed after the release of "Grizzly Man" and tacked onto the end of the version Discovery screened. It is almost as if he felt guilty for the extent to which he caricaturized Treadwell's absurdities in the film itself -- his aim was to point out Man's follies, not to show that Treadwell is a kook. Timothy's loyal friends (and those who know him all seem to be fiercely loyal to him) wanted the world to know that there was more to Timothy than the film had shown -- his unpaid and highly appreciated work with kids (telling them about bears, natch), his wonderful photography, the fact that his presence probably did deter poachers at the National Park. I have no transcript of this portion of the program, but I believe that Hertzog wanted to reiterate that he though Timothy Treadwell had a life that was meaningful, and that he personally respected Treadwell, despite their very different worldviews.